How ecological are electric cars really?

How environmentally friendly is electric mobility really if you not only measure consumption but also take into account the production of the car and the provision of electricity? In order to dispel many half-truths, the TCS asked Konstantinos Boulouchos, ETH professor for energy technology, to answer some of the most important questions.

How much CO₂ does an electric car emit from production to disposal?

A mid-range electric car emits between 20 and 45 tons of CO₂ according to a life cycle analysis. 7 to 15 tonnes of this for the battery, depending on the size and manufacturing process, between 7 (for the Swiss electricity mix) and 22 (for the European electricity mix) tonnes of CO₂ for driving and 5 to 6 tonnes of CO₂ for vehicle production. In a modern mid-range hybrid car (petrol) that amounts to between 35 and 40 tons of CO₂. For comparison: According to a life cycle analysis, 40 tons of CO₂ correspond to the emissions of 14,000 liters of petrol or 12,500 liters of diesel.

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How environmentally friendly are electric cars if the electricity is not renewable?

As long as we get the electricity from nuclear power plants or coal-fired power plants, electric vehicles are not really environmentally friendly either. Only when the electricity comes from renewable energy will electric cars become energy efficient. Thus, the decarbonization of the entire power generation worldwide should take place at least at the same time as (better still: a little earlier than) the electrification of mobility.


How much electricity does complete electrification of transport need?

Complete electrification of the car fleet in Switzerland would require an additional 25% of the current electricity consumption in the country. 


What happens to the batteries in an electric vehicle?

The energy- and cost-efficient recycling of an old battery is an indispensable prerequisite for e-mobility (if only because of the valuable and quantity-limited raw materials it contains). Corresponding processes are in the development phase so that an industrial application appears to be timely. 


Does an electric car emit electrosmog?

It is not to be expected at all that electric cars will be banned in busy streets in a few years' time because of excessive electrosmog emissions. Electromagnetic radiation that can be measured externally does not exist in electric vehicles either.


Doesn't the future lie more with hydrogen and gas drives?

It is currently not foreseeable which drive mix will have which market share in the future. Battery electric cars will, however, play an important role in the medium to long term. To drive a car with a fuel cell, 2 to 2.5 times more primary energy is required than for a battery-powered car. The fuel cell vehicle would, however, have good long-term prospects for long-distance traffic, also because renewable electricity can be stored seasonally using hydrogen. The corresponding hydrogen infrastructure would still have to be built. 

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