“The generalization of electric cars will have an insignificant impact on air quality”

MEPs voted to ban the sale of new gasoline or diesel vehicles, and even hybrids, in 2035, in favor of 100% electric vehicles. This vote is part of the climate package which aims to “reduce GHG emissions [gaz à effet de serre] and fight against global warming” and aims for “zero emissions” by 2050.

However, already denounced last year in these columns, this obligation for individuals to drive electric is falsely ecological since it will reduce GHG emissions in the EU by only 1% per year, while posing serious ecological and strategic problems related to batteries. The billions spent on this ineffective “transition” must target and limit the use of internal combustion or electric cars, the only solution on already saturated roads and cities.

Zero or almost no impact on health

One million 100% electric cars are sold in the EU each year and it is therefore a question of increasing to 15 million in 2035. Note that the 300 million already in circulation in the EU will not be affected, nor will the freight sector which induces a quarter of road GHG emissions. Moreover, the “zero emissions” of electric vehicles is a myth put forward by car manufacturers, and taken up in a dismaying way by MEPs, who neglect that electric vehicles must be manufactured, recharge their batteries with electricity, then to recycle. However, until proven otherwise, we do not cultivate them in the open field to harvest them and then make compost afterwards! These steps consume energy and produce GHG emissions: an independent site, developed by the Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology, compares emissions model by model, both for thermal and electric vehicles and shows that over the entire life cycle, their emissions reach 25 to 50% of a thermal vehicle of the same power.

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This insignificant reduction in GHG emissions, assuming the replacement of all vehicles, will have an average zero impact on air quality and health: in France, transport (road, air, sea, rail) induces a third of the total GHG emissions, and the road 75% of these. Due to these non-zero GHG emissions, the exclusion of road transport, and the stock of 300 million thermal cars, even if the 15 million vehicles sold in 2035 are electric, i.e. 5% of the stock, the emissions of road sector will decrease by only 2% per year. Remember that the growth of the road sector is 2% per year. And the impact on total emissions will be less than 1%! Obviously, for lack of a strategy to reduce the number of vehicles and the freight, these ridiculous gains will be eaten up by the ambient laissez-faire on the road. And at what economic, budgetary, strategic and environmental cost?

What environmental, strategic and social price?

The policies that endorse this decision overlook the disastrous environmental impact of battery production and end-of-life. An electric car requires 250 to 600 kg of “lithium-ion” type batteries, and on average 400 kg. For the 15 million new cars, it will be necessary to produce… 6 million tonnes of batteries per year! Without forgetting the electronics to manage the energy, much more present than in a thermal vehicle. I have already noted the exponential ecological impact of electronic components and all-digital related to the extraction of rare earths and heavy metals (up to a ton of crushed earth for a single gram of useful material). This is the case for the main components of batteries (cobalt, lithium, manganese, nickel, graphite, etc.) whose extraction processes are very water-intensive, which they pollute, and which sterilize agricultural soils. At a time when the use of telephones, laptops and new forms of mobility (bicycles, scooters, etc.) is already causing demand to explode, to improve the air quality of Europeans by a few percent, we are preparing to cause major pollution… somewhere else. In China, for example, which monopolizes two-thirds of world production, with the respect for the environment that we know, or in the Democratic Republic of Congo, whose land is turned over and crushed to extract cobalt.

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And what about their recycling? Their lifespan is 1,000 to 1,500 charge/discharge cycles and their recycling, which is moreover often only a decycling, concerns only 50% of the components: what will become of the rest, these millions of annual tonnes of non-recycled pollutants? India and Africa, already drowned under the electronic waste of the West, will they become an immense dustbin when we know the fate of many second-hand vehicles and electronic devices which, under cover of resale of occasion, end up far from the eyes of the West. Delicate to operate given the variety of heavy metals and electrolytes used, energy-intensive and requiring flawless organization. Their 100% recycling promised by the EU is a utopia, while more than three quarters of plastics and 80% of electronic waste are still not recycled!

Moreover, from a geopolitical point of view, is the “road of the battery” safer than that of oil? Nothing is less sure. A handful of extracting countries, and China as a refiner and manufacturer, monopolize resources and production, which will be all the more problematic if the United States and all the industrial countries impose electricity, whereas for oil and gas at least twenty countries can guarantee a supply: will independence from fossil fuels translate into even worse dependence for Europeans?

Carry out a targeted policy

At what budgetary and social cost? At equivalent power, electric cars are half or twice as expensive due to the batteries and on-board electronics. The growth of their sales is achieved at the cost of heavy subsidization amounting to a quarter of their cost, which is not sustainable with generalization: if in 2035 the two million cars sold in France are electric, the cost for the State budget will be more than 10 billion euros, or 1% of the budget in 2035, to finance the so-called “ecological” bonus of 5,000 euros, and the conversion premium. Is the State intended to finance private vehicles and “French car production”, all the more so given the inefficiency of all-electric? Clearly, access to mobility for consumers will be made even more unequal. The lesson learned from the constraints (confiscatory technical control) and the costs borne by modest motorists, which triggered the movement of yellow vests in 2019, has not been retained.

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This 1% would be better used by investing in intelligent sharing and carpooling systems to declutter suffocated agglomerations, rather than adding them to roads, whether electric or thermal. And rather than generalizing electric vehicles indiscriminately, by targeting subsidies in urban areas, where they are relevant for limiting air pollution since their GHG emissions are not produced while driving. Convincing studies also show that electric vehicles are advantageous in economic and ecological terms when they are used as much as possible: they must therefore be targeted towards those who drive a lot in dense and urban areas: delivery, taxis, freight , public transport, to effectively fight against ozone concentrations and air pollution peaks, rather than wasting public money in this way, or almost. This is still what I call “strategic ecology” where consumers, planet and producers are winners.

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Whether politicians validate, knowingly or not, all-electricity says a lot about the poverty of their thinking, and their submission to the times, if not to the dominant industries. It must be emphasized that the most ecological car is the one that we do not produce or that we keep (it has already been produced): instead of replacing pollution with another even worse one, let’s keep our vehicles whose average life is between six and ten years, but which could easily be doubled, “sobriety” which requires reconsidering the support of public authorities for automobile producers, it is true, but is there an “ecological emergency” or not? »?