FIM Brussels – An overview on the debate on E-mobility
Globally, the road transport sector is enduring a potentially revolutionary period. The rise in prominence of environmental concerns in recent years have been a substantial contributing factor to this. As policymakers turn to electromobility as a potential solution, two schools of thought appear to be emerging. In short, pitting those who support a transition to e-mobility against those who don’t see it quite so simply.
This polarisation of opinion, while pre-existing, has sharpened partly in reaction to the perceived provocation of recent proposals made by policymakers. The European Commission’s Clean Mobility package even prompting some commentators to conclude that the Commission has abandoned its technology neutral stance and adopted a clear preference for a shift towards e-mobility. While the package relates mainly to the automotive sector, for PTWs the implications could still be significant, specifically as this example represents a developing wider trend.
Presently, the debate effectively places internal combustion engines and electric alternatives in direct opposition. Central to this discussion is whether greenhouse gas emission comparisons should be based upon the environmental footprint of the vehicle post-production or if this should encompass the full vehicle life-cycle. OEMs have been among the most prominent voices accusing policymakers of ignoring a life-cycle approach. Those who follow this line of thought have urged a focus on how EVs are fuelled and how battery materials are sourced and disposed of. Additionally, some e-mobility detractors have asserted that the concept of ``zero-emission’’ vehicles is a falsity, due mainly to the energy consumed in recharging and in the manufacturing of batteries.
On the opposite side of the debate, supporters of the switch to electric are adamant that, irrespective of which fuel is used, EVs will result in a reduction in CO2 emissions across their entire life-cycle. Studies have indeed demonstrated that, when powered by the same fossil fuel, an EV burns significantly less fuel than a petrol alternative. Despite this, there appears to be a clear differential to the determent of e-mobility in terms of the environmental impact of vehicle production.
One study, undertaken by Ricardo consultancy, which compared average CO2 production emissions of petrol and electric vehicles, found that on average an EV exceeds its petrol equivalent by 3 tonnes. This stark fact is mainly due to the emissions-heavy process of battery production, which the same study indicated accounts for 50% of EV production emissions on average. Another study produced by the European Climate Foundation underpins this point, asserting that the reduction in the environmental impact of battery production will be elementary in sustaining the sector in the long-term.
At this point, the comparatively vast gap in the economies of scale of petrol or diesel vehicle producers and EV producers impacts on the overall picture significantly. While emissions targets will be a prime source of contention, the method by which these targets are achieved will also be a key talking point. Evidently, in the short-term a strong disparity of opinion will likely persist among stakeholders as to the possibilities offered by a switch to e-mobility.