The E85 rechargeable hybrid, less harmful to the environment than the electric car?

Ifpen has changed its name, but its DNA remains unchanged. The former “French Petroleum Institute” had in fact added “New Energies” as a suffix in the 2010s. roots of the Institute, focused on the oil industry. It is therefore not surprising to see communication rather focused on combustion engines! Precisely, Ifpen has made public a large study demonstrating the interest of a rechargeable hybridization with E85 sauce on pure electric. A study commissioned for the SNPAA (National Union of Agricultural Alcohol Producers), the AIBS (Interprofessional Association of Beets and Sugar) and Intercereals. It’s important to point this out for context…

The case study

The study is based on the case of a compact C-segment sedan
The study is based on the case of a compact C-segment sedan© Christophe Congrega

Ifpen has studied the following vehicles:

  • 100% petrol thermal vehicle (reference vehicle) VTH G
  • Thermal vehicle Superethanol-E85 VTH E85
  • Vehicle Full Hybrid Superethanol-E85 VFH E85
  • Plug-in hybrid vehicle Superethanol-E85 VFH plugin E85
  • Electric vehicle with 60kWh VE battery
  • Electric vehicle with 80kWh VE+ battery

Unfortunately, the Institute does not specify the models used for the test. Shame. He is content to specify that only one “segment is studied”, namely the C segment, that of the Peugeot 308 and Renault Mégane with a conventional mass of 1427 kg. A rather real case with regard to the French car park. Tests on the PHEV E85 model were split as follows: 40% electric/60% E85. Ifpen carried out its tests not on the WLTP model used for the approval of new vehicles, but on the Artemis cycle, which had been proposed for a time to replace the old NEDC. It is therefore supposed to be quite close to real conditions.

Less CO2, even in France

Ifpen summarizes the study with these conclusions:

  • With regard to light vehicles in France, the use of a plug-in hybrid engine powered exclusively by Superethanol-E85 is, in terms of GHG emissions, at least as efficient as the battery electric vehicle. This is true for use in real use of the rechargeable hybrid, that is to say 40% of the kilometers in all-electric mode, and 60% in thermal mode.
  • On a European scope, with a more carbon-intensive electric mix, the E85 plug-in hybrid even does better than the battery-powered electric vehicle.

It should be noted that this study is of the “well to tank” and “tank to wheel” type, i.e. from the well to the wheel. Battery manufacturing (China), cereal production to produce E85, electricity for electric cars: all the main parameters have been taken into account in the calculation of GHG emissions (greenhouse gases ) for each case.

Greenhouse gas emissions for E85, electric and thermal according to Ifpen
Greenhouse gas emissions for E85, electric and thermal according to Ifpen© Ifpen

The Institute also points out that the E85 associated with a non-rechargeable hybrid engine is very relevant. But it is clear today that apart from Ford, very few manufacturers have chosen this energy. And then, even if there are many conversion boxes, nothing will beat a specific development of the engine to burn E85 (valve seats and other mechanical modifications…). Unfortunately, the offer is far too limited at present, and developments in electrics are so costly that large groups cannot afford to be on several fronts at the same time.

However, a small caveat to the conclusions of the study: they are valid for a period of 150,000 km. The 250,000 km graph shows electric taking over other powertrains, including PHEV E85. And it is logical: the main releases linked to battery production have been amortized.

Biofuels, really virtuous?

And then, of course, there will remain the debate about using land to produce fuel rather than food, with very intensive use of these plots. The study probably does not take into account the potential impact of maize cultivation (very water-intensive, a resource that has become sensitive), in particular, but more generally, the consequences of very intensive agriculture on the soil, always to produce fuel rather than food. However, France remains moderate in this regard: 3% of agricultural land are used to produce these fuels. By comparison, in the United States, 40% of the corn produced nationwide goes into a tank rather than a plate! A recent study of the National Academy of Sciences squarely pointed the finger at these agrofuels, believing that they were greater contributors to global warming… than gasoline from petroleum.