Les voitures électriques, pas si écologiques ?

Electric cars, not so ecological?

Do electric cars really help save the planet? Their critics believe the environmental benefits are exaggerated, but when it comes to global warming, studies show they emit fewer greenhouse gases than internal combustion engine cars. However, it is also important to distinguish climate impacts from other aspects of this technology, such as pollution from mining. A group of journalists verified three claims about electric vehicles circulating on social networks.

Coal-powered cars?

A common argument is that these electric cars would emit as much greenhouse gas emissions as internal combustion cars because the electricity they use is itself generated by power plants using fossil fuels such as coal. But according to the US Environmental Protection Agency, an electric car being charged in St. Louis, Missouri — one of the most coal-dependent states for electricity — produces an average of 247 grams of carbon dioxide (CO2) per mile (ie about 154 grams per kilometer), compared to 381 grams for a thermal vehicle.

The carbon footprint of an electric car depends on the region or country where it was charged: in countries like Poland or certain Asian countries that generate a large part of their electricity from coal, it is higher than in France, where it is very depends heavily on nuclear power. And if we consider the entire life cycle, from the production of the raw materials for batteries to their end-of-life recycling, internal combustion cars still emit far more CO2 than electric cars, concluded the expert organization International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) in a thick study.

Dirty mining extraction

Battery manufacturing is an energy-intensive process as some components are mined and raw materials have to be transported around the world for assembly and sale. Recycling them is expensive.

According to a post shared on Facebook, 227 tons of earth would have to be excavated to extract the metals needed for a single electric car battery. That estimate appears to come from an analysis published in 2020 by the Manhattan Institute, a climate-skeptical research group. But according to several experts consulted by journalists who led the review of the three theories circulating on social networks, these figures are misleading. “That’s a gross exaggeration,” said Peter Newman, professor of sustainability at Curtin University, Australia. According to him, everything depends on the exploration region and the type of battery.

Mining has other negative effects beyond the climate: for example, 70% of cobalt, one of the components of batteries, comes from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where children are exploited in the mines. Access to components also raises strategic supply issues, many of which originate in China, according to the International Energy Agency.

However, oil drilling, with its significant environmental impact, is not a better solution, says Georg Bieker, a researcher at the ICCT. The risk of global warming caused by greenhouse gases is much greater for mankind, the UN climate experts (IPCC) recently concluded. “In any case, it is clear that the social and environmental impacts of global warming are catastrophic and far greater than those of mining for batteries,” argues Bieker.

The interior of the bZ4X, Toyota’s all-electric SUV. Aly Song/Reuters

The Danger of “Getting Stuck in the Snow”

After a snowstorm last January in Virginia, US, netizens shared posts on Facebook claiming that electric cars risk getting stuck in traffic, their passengers are stuck inside without heating, and the car queues are increasing again. Several fact-checking organizations have attempted to verify these claims and have found no evidence to support these claims.

The question of the additional consumption of electric cars when it is cold is being discussed in expert circles, some claim that combustion engines ultimately consume more because they have to keep the engine running to operate the heating. The British magazine Which? tested the battery of an electric SUV by simulating a traffic jam in summer, with the air conditioning, radio and lights switched on and a connected tablet. In these summer conditions (and certainly not in winter), the testers only used 2% of the battery in an hour and a half, or the equivalent of 13 km of autonomy.

Source: AFP

Do electric cars really help save the planet? Their critics believe the environmental benefits are exaggerated, but when it comes to global warming, studies show they emit fewer greenhouse gases than internal combustion engine cars. However, it is also important to consider the impact on…


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