‘A Tesla for people who like to play Rambo’

Each week we take a look with EV specialist and Innovation Origins columnist Auke Hoekstra at what caught his eye on topical issues or what he runs into when it concerns the preservation of our planet.

Nobody will have missed it: The presentation of the Tesla Cybertruck. The opinions are divided – from unbelievably ugly to brilliant and everything in between.Though Tesla is getting a lot of pre-orders. Elon Musk posted the latest update on Twitter: more than two hundred thousand orders.

Auke learned a lot about Tesla’ latest model on Twitter. He is advocating a ban on these kinds of ‘juggernauts’ in the city.

Read the thread

What bothers you so much about the new design?

“Have you seen how huge it is? Maybe this is more suitable as a lunar vehicle. Or for people who are expecting to be attacked. But no one really needs such a huge vehicle, do they? It’s also about the signal that you are sending as a driver. It looks extremely aggressive. Like: ‘We’re just going to shove you off the road for now.’ This is everything you do not want to have in a city. It’s as if a driver feel superior to the rest of the traffic. Surely that can’t be the intention.”

“On the other hand, I do understand the thrill, I’m still a small boy who loves fun toys too. A Maserati is also super cool. When it comes to its looks, I can imagine that people find it futuristic and a pretty good thing. It is definitely something different for once. These reactions do make me think, yet I’m still overwhelmed by the feeling that it is a war truck.”

“So long as there are no proper rules to keep these antisocial tanks out of the city, I’m just glad that there are electric alternatives.” Auke Hoekstra.

How would you rather see it?

“It’s mainly about the signal you’re sending and that’s just wrong. To what extent can you still call it a sustainable car? It takes up a tremendous amount of space, has a lot of material around the wheels and is not at all aerodynamic. Tesla uses a stainless steel construction which is super heavy. On Wikipedia it says – for what it’s worth – that this model weighs about 3,000 kg. This causes the tires to wear out faster and it also means that there has to be a massive battery in there …”

Suddenly on the other side of the phone connection there are sounds of mumbling and tapping on a keyboard. Auke is busy with the math. “… They say that you should be able to drive at least 800 kilometers on a fully charged battery. I take that with a pinch of salt, they base that on the most favorable conditions. But let’s assume for the sake of convenience that it’s true, then my guess would be that it has to contain at least a 200 kWh battery, maybe even bigger.”

“”Even if you were to drive around using completely green electricity, you’d still need a substantial supply of raw materials in order to produce such a huge battery. That’s not a justifiable approach.”

Already the response on Twitter was that you shouldn’t complain so much: this car isn’t meant for compact Dutch cities at all, does that make you change your mind?

“I definitely don’t deny that they drive in much larger cars in the US, for example, where that trend has been going on for much longer. Oil is cheap and there are certain tax advantages to larger cars. But you are also seeing more and more of those SUV’s here. These cars have one major feature: driver safety. You are shielded and yet you don’t get any sense of the vulnerability of pedestrians and cyclists.”

“It bothers me that the design of these forts on wheels does not take those vulnerabilities into account. Quite a lot of research is being done on outboard airbags, or bumpers that have extra give. But that’s not nearly enough. Much more attention needs to be paid to safety on the outside.”

Can Tesla change any of this?

Auke starts laughing, a video can be heard in the background:

“The claim that the glass is unbreakable, turns out to be a bit off the mark.”

But according to him, the car manufacturer is keeping up with current trends by making these kinds of claims. As in an indestructible all-terrain vehicle. “They hit the side of it with a giant sledgehammer in order to prove that the model doesn’t give way. You can imagine what happens to a person when he is hit by a car that doesn’t budge an inch. That is not going to end well. This criticism is not only directed at Tesla, but at all manufacturers.”

“Consumers also have a responsibility here. When you buy such a thing, you are actually telling the rest of your surroundings: you’re out of luck, I’m driving here. What are these huge cars doing in the city anyway? Studies show that these types of vehicles are more dangerous. Maybe we should also give people who want to play at being Rambo in the city a higher level of liability.”

Lastly, can you find anything positive in this new model?

“Evidently this is what it takes to get people out of their fossilized pickup trucks. So long as there are no proper rules to keep these antisocial tanks out of the city, I’m just glad that there are electric alternatives.”

Start-up of the day: Carefree electric travel with EP Tender battery trailer

The EP Tender looks like a camper’s tiny pod caravan that’s towed behind an ordinary car – but it isn’t! It is actually a mobile battery that will someday make it possible to travel hundreds of kilometers with an electric car. At present, most EVs usually don’t go further than 150 kilometers, so says the founder of EP Tender, Jean-Baptiste Segard. The battery is then empty and needs to be recharged. Segard hopes that the masses will switch to buying an electric car as soon as EP Tender’s battery trailer comes onto the market.

What motivated you to set up EP Tender and what problem did it resolve?

“I first came up with the idea of a trailer with extra capacity for the electric car like our current EP Tender when I wanted to buy an electric car myself. That was back in 2012. I couldn’t find a suitable electric car at that time. The range was not great enough for the few times a year when I wanted to travel much further. I thought it was a pity that there wasn’t a modular system around that would supplement the electric car’s battery so that I could occasionally travel longer distances with it.

At first I thought of a trailer with an internal combustion engine which might run on petrol. But in 2018, we switched to a trailer with an auxiliary battery, because then we would be better able to meet the needs of the electric car manufacturers. We will have to halve our CO2 emissions by 2030. And that is something that car manufacturers must also work towards.

150 kms of extra range

The rationale behind the battery is that you only hire it when you need extra range. Generally speaking, I think this would only be about six times a year for me. You can lengthen the range of your electric car from about 150 kilometers to 250 to 300 kilometers. You could also place a larger battery permanently in your car so that you can keep on driving. But that is far too expensive for most people. This remains an obstacle for them as far as switching to electric-powered transport is concerned.

Installing a larger battery is generally not an efficient solution for increasing the car’s range either, as most people drive just a few times a year further than an average car battery can handle. Otherwise you would be driving around with that heavy battery for no reason. You can compare the weight with that of a cow or a donkey. You’ll have these on your back seat during every short trip. Why would you want to do that if you don’t need to?”

The EP Tender team: Frederic Joint, Jean-Baptiste Segard (second from left), Hugo Basset, Fabrice Viot, Dingjie Ma, Hancheng Yang

What is the main obstacle you will need to overcome?

“It is very difficult to be taken on board in the development plans of car manufacturers. The automotive industry has been around for 120 years. And the planning cycle is lengthy when it comes to developing a new car. That said, we are in talks with a number of car manufacturers. However, a contract with any of them is yet to materialize. It is important that this happens. After all, the car manufacturers must apply for approval from the statutory regulators for use of the EP Tender system with their electric cars. They will only do that once they have our technology fitted to their cars. We cannot do that for them. As long as they haven’t got that done, there won’t be a market for us.”

What has been the biggest breakthrough so far?

“In 2018, when we switched to a battery in the EP Tender instead of a combustion engine. That way you can rely even more on sustainable energy.”

The EP Tender mobile battery Photo: EP Tender

What can we expect from EP Tender in the coming year?

“Our business model must be in place by then. We are now completing a survey using data from 350,000 consumers which should show what most people would be willing to pay when hiring the EP Tender. As well as how often, where and when they could use the EP Tender. We are now putting the finishing touches to the robotics of the trailer so that it can connect itself to the car. The idea is that every 50 kilometers along the road there will be a service station where there will always be twenty EP Tenders ready to be connected. We are currently discussing the location of these service stations with energy companies. But also with private motorway operators in various European countries who have a state concession for these. They have an interest in electric cars being able to add energy in time so that they don’t end up stuck on the roadside.”

Where would you like to be with EP Tender in five years’ time?

“Then we would like to be profitable. Or at least break even. The outlook is that 40% of cars will be electric by 2030. So the demand for the EP Tender should have increased by then. By 2025, we want our trailer to be available for hire in the major European countries such as France, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and Switzerland. But also in Austria, Italy, Spain, Sweden and Denmark. And we want to have a foothold in the US, China and India.”

What does EP Tender’s innovation improve upon compared to products in your segment of the market?

“That drivers of electric cars can drive a long distance without having to constantly worry about their battery’s energy reserves.”

Car sharing, smaller batteries and better recycling needed to compensate for the nearing shortage of rare metals

amber oplaadpaal opladen

In order to be able to drive electrically, various rare metals are required. This will cause a problem in the near future. Replacing these metals with other raw materials can reduce our dependence. This is the simplest solution for society, but it is not technically feasible in the short term. That is why a shift will have to take place towards electric shared cars, cars with a smaller battery and better recycling. That’s what the report ‘Metaalvraag van Elektrisch Vervoer‘ by environmental scientist Benjamin Sprecher of Leiden University and organisations Copper8 and Metabolic concludes.

Current global production of some critical metals is reported to be insufficient for the large-scale shift to electric transport. Calculations for the Netherlands show that on the basis of a ‘fair share’ of the metal supply, the country could have no more than one million electric cars by 2030. However, in order to achieve the country’s climate targets, twice as many electric cars will have to be available. There are currently some 171,000 electric cars on the road in the Netherlands.

A number of specific metals that are crucial for electric vehicles – nickel, praseodymium, neodymium, cobalt, dysprosium and lithium – appear to be in short supply. In addition, these metals are also needed for other applications, such as solar panels, wind turbines and consumer electronics.

The “identified reserves” of the required metals are often sufficient. “However, this is not relevant, as availability is limited by production capacity. This production capacity has technical, economic and social limits.” In addition, geopolitical conditions may play a role in the availability of these metals. “Scarcity leads to increased competition, both between applications and between countries. Due to growing global demand for critical metals, the likelihood of geopolitical problems increases every year. Shortages or interruptions in the supply of critical metals can slow down the development of electric transport: something that we cannot use in our climate task.”

The researchers have six recommendations:

  1. Focus on new mobility concepts with fewer vehicles
  2. Invest in future-proof infrastructure and prevent lock-ins
  3. Encourage electric vehicles with small batteries for regional solutions
  4. Develop a Dutch critical metals recycling industry
  5. Support sustainable mining initiatives to minimise the impact on people and the environment
  6. Encourage the development of new battery types at European level
Critical metals needed for electric vehicles in the Netherlands, as a percentage of the worldwide annual production of these critical metals in 2020, 2025 and 2030. © Leiden University

“Let me start by saying that we are definitely not against the introduction of electric cars”, says Benjamin Sprecher, a researcher at the Centre for Environmental Sciences Leiden. “The transition to electric transport is important. However, we must be aware that this policy is not without consequences.” He explains, for example, that a greater demand for critical metals – which are also needed for solar panels and wind turbines – can be detrimental to nature. “Increased demand inevitably leads to the construction of new mines. In order to prevent inconvenience to humans, these will be located in remote areas, at the expense of already scarce nature reserves. We must be aware of this and ensure more sustainable mining.”

But that’s not enough, says Sprecher. “We consume an awful lot, so much so that it is no longer enough for us to have one earth. In the case of electric cars too, it is important that we look at ways to reduce the number of cars. Think of shared cars and better public transport.” Other solutions, such as new technologies that are less dependent on critical metals or the use of smaller batteries, are much less effective, but easier to implement.

Three scenarios for limiting the metal demand for electric transport. Scenario 1 looks at new battery technologies: socially simple, but technically unrealistic in the short term. Scenario 2 examines smaller batteries: this results in less range, but also in fewer metals. However, the effectiveness of this approach appears to be limited. Scenario 3 is by far the most effective, but also socially the most complex: by making more effective use of electric vehicles, fewer vehicles are needed and therefore also fewer metals. © Leiden University
Distribution of the production of metals for electric cars. © Leiden University

Tomorrow is Good: a higher speed limit for electric vehicles makes sense

The Netherlands is struggling with nitrogen emissions. Dutch lawmakers are trying to work their way towards compliance with the agreements made earlier in Paris. Nevertheless, they are still lagging behind on an international level.

In light of agriculture being one of the pillars for these emission measures, parliamentary plans to reduce their footprint has bumped up against fierce protests from farmers. There seems that there is no end in sight to this anytime soon.

Lowering the speed limit

One of the other key pillars concerns the ICE (Internal Combustion Engine) emissions that are to be reduced by lowering the speed limit on highways from 130 to 100 km per hour according to a recently made decision.

For many, many years, Dutch lawmakers have been successfully promoting EV (Electric Vehicles) with tax incentives and campaigns to support electric transportation.

Rather curious

With that in mind, it is rather curious to me that the perspective absent in this 130>100km topic, is one which would allow EV cars to keep the 130km limit. Lowering the speed limit for these vehicles which have a lack of any actual NOx emissions, makes no sense. Although this may impact the number of accidents. Yet there is no significant gain for the emission footprint with the reduction of the speed limit for electric vehicles. On the other hand, maintaining the higher speed limit might even act as an incentive to drive electric vehicles.

Read moreTomorrow is Good: a higher speed limit for electric vehicles makes sense

Tomorrow is Good: Verified data behind the use of Electric Vehicles

VDL

We all know Auke Hoekstra from his relentless struggle for correct, verified data about electric driving. He often writes about it at Innovation Origins. Recently he had a fierce discussion with Belgian professor Damien Ernst, who claimed that an electric car only becomes ‘greener’ than a petrol car after 700,000 kilometres. Nonsense, Hoekstra demonstrates. That turning point comes after only 20 to 40,000 kilometres – and in the near future even after only 7,000 kilometres. He neatly recapitulates the facts in a long blog post. Here’s the summary for Tomorrow is Good.

I show how in Europe, an electric vehicle becomes greener after 20 to 40 thousand kilometres of driving, not 700 thousand as a famous Belgian professor calculated on television recently. He has corrected his calculation in a new blog post but in such a confusing way that I feel the need to explain. I also show that in science facts are still facts and Damien Ernst and I actually agree about them: we don’t live in a post-truth world!

At the core of this discussion is the following problem: electric vehicles emit less CO2 while driving, but they need a battery and producing that battery emits more CO2. How bad is this battery compared to the driving advantage? Two weeks ago the famous and impressive prof. Damien Ernst (Blondel Medal winner, working on supergrids that help to solve the energy transition) calculated – on Television – it would take more than the lifetime of the electric vehicle (697,612 km to be precise) for the electric car to compensate for the global warming caused by battery production.

How bad is battery production?

CO2 emitted during battery production causes global warming. Ernst first claimed 312 kg CO2 was emitted for every kWh of battery produced. He now estimates 127 kg. Industry experts put it at 65 kg and it will become less when batteries are produced using renewable energy.

How dirty is electricity?

CO2 emitted during electricity production causes global warming too. For reasons unexplained, Ernst first assumed Belgian electric vehicles drive on German electricity (550 grams/kWh). He now takes the EU mix over the coming ten years that he pegs at 317 grams per kWh. I can explain why he actually means 289 grams.

Don’t forget the production of gasoline

In his first calculation, Ernst forgot to include the CO2 emissions caused by the production of gasoline. He now includes this and it increases gasoline car emissions by 40%.

How much energy do electric and gasoline vehicles use?

For reasons not explained, Ernst decided to compare a large electric vehicle with a small gasoline car. Ernst takes an electric vehicle that outputs 0.23 kWh/km and compares it with a gasoline car using 6 liter per 100 km. I have made a little comparison of the energy use of different vehicles on the site of the American Environmental Protection Agency to show how strange this is. (I use American numbers because the official numbers in Europe are wrong because of the car lobby.)

Auke Hoekstra

Auke Hoekstra

As you can see 0.23 kWh/km equates to a Tesla Model X: a large SUV. A direct comparison would be a Porsche Cayenne: a bit smaller and slower but close. So a comparable gasoline vehicle would use 11.28 liters per 100 km.

Instead, Ernst compares to a car using 6 liter per 100 km. That’s less than a VW Golf with a small motor and manual transmission.

Ernst’s new conclusion is hard to find

Drawing a conclusion from all this is straightforward. But Ernst is apparently confusing many readers if I see what they say on Twitter and in newspapers. They think the answer to his calculations can be found under the heading: “And now the calculation!” But at that point in his post, the Belgian/European cars still drive on the coal-heavy German electricity mix (?) while the production of gasoline is still excluded (?). It is not clear to me why you would display the results of these faulty assumptions so prominently.

He says that an electric vehicle with a battery of 80 kWh would begin to have a lower carbon footprint than a petrol-driven vehicle somewhere between 67,226 km and 151,259 km travelled. What Ernst is saying in the lower number is: if I correct my mistake of forgetting gasoline production, if battery production is close to my corrected source, if I assume the European electricity mix is not getting cleaner and if I compare a very big EV to a small gasoline car, then the EV is greener after 67,226 km. The higher number says the same but assumes battery production emits 225 kg CO2/kWh without naming any source.

If you find this confusing: I was confused too.

The Calculations!

Using Ernst’s corrected numbers, a large EV becomes greener than a small gasoline car after 81 thousand km. If you compare like with like the EV becomes greener after about 35 thousand km. Using the best information I have available, I would put it at 19 thousand now and 7 thousand in the future.

It’s not rocket science. Let me show you.

Battery production
If we multiply 127 kg CO2/kWh and 80 kWh we get (and I quote Ernst): “10,153 kg for the manufacture of an 80 kWh battery.” I round Ernst to 10,160 kg of CO2 for the production of the battery.

EV emissions while driving
0.23 kWh/km multiplied by 289 grams/kWh means 66 grams of CO2 per km for the EV.

Gasoline car emissions while driving6 liter/100km multiplied by 3.192 kg of CO2 per liter means 192 gr CO2/km for the gasoline car.

The result
The EV emits 192 – 66 = 125 gr CO2/km less than the gasoline car. 10,160/0.125 = 81,248 km.

So after 81,248 km, a Tesla Model X is gaining on a small gasoline car using Ernst’s assumption

That was scenario 1 in the table below. But we can also make some other interesting scenarios.

Scenario 2. We could compare the Tesla Model X with a car his own size. Then the Model X is greener than his counterpart (we took the Porsche Cayenne) after 35 thousand km.

Scenario 3. We could compare an electric VW Golf with a gasoline VW Golf using the assumptions of Ernst to get electric is greener after 41 thousand km.

Scenario 4. Again comparing eGolf against gasoline Golf using Ernst his new assumptions but battery production according to the best official sources. This gives 35 thousand km.

Scenario 5. These are my best guess assumptions: battery production based on industry estimates of someone I trust and CO2 emissions over the lifetime of the EV based on mainstream assumptions. Then I get about 19 thousand km before the EV is greener.

Scenario 6. This is the future I’m doing it all for. Mining and production of batteries will use renewable electricity and electric cars will drive on renewable electricity. When that happens they will become greener after 7 thousand km and less than that if the battery was recycled.

auke hoekstra

Conclusion

Electric cars are really much better for the climate than gasoline or diesel cars, even according to the new calculations from prof. Damien Ernst and certainly according to the most up-to-date information.

PS: I hope everyone understands that video conferencing, electric bikes and trains are better for the environment than large cars, whether electric or not.

About this column:

In a weekly column, alternately written by Maarten Steinbuch, Mary Fiers, Carlo van de Weijer, Lucien Engelen, Tessie Hartjes and Auke Hoekstra, Innovation Origins tries to find out what the future will look like. The six columnists, occasionally supplemented with guest bloggers, are all working in their own way on solutions for the problems of our time. So tomorrow will be good. Here are all the previous episodes.

Correcting misinformation about greenhouse gas emissions of electric vehicles: Auke Hoekstra’s response to Damien Ernst’s calculations

Elektromobilität

I show how in Europe, an electric vehicle becomes greener after 20 to 40 thousand kilometres of driving, not 700 thousand as a famous Belgian professor calculated on television recently. He has corrected his calculation in a new blog post but in such a confusing way that I feel the need to explain. I also show that in science facts are still facts and Damien Ernst and I actually agree about them: we don’t live in a post-truth world!

NOTE: this post is long and a bit detailed. If you want to read it like a normal blog post you could just read the bold text.

At the core of this discussion is the following problem: electric vehicles emit less CO2 while driving, but they need a battery and producing that battery emits more CO2. How bad is this battery compared to the driving advantage? Two weeks ago the famous and impressive prof. Damien Ernst (Blondel Medal winner, working on supergrids that help to solve the energy transition) calculated – on Television – it would take more than the lifetime of the electric vehicle (697,612 km to be precise) for the electric car to compensate for the global warming caused by battery production.

The number spread like wildfire to dozens of newspapers and blog posts. But it’s patently untrue (as Ernst has admitted) and many people asked me (as a researcher of the Eindhoven University of Technology on this topic) to put the record straight. So I wrote a step by step debunking thread on twitter (even translated to Italian) that inspired blogs (e.g. vrz, autospectrum, tweakers, dvhn, autoblog, vaaju) and I helped multiple newspapers with fact-checks (e.g. de Standaard, Algemeen Dagblad and de Volkskrant). From the Dutch newspapers that reported the error, only the Telegraaf left it uncorrected (which is a pity because they are shrinking but still the biggest).

But now Ernst is back with a new blog post. I felt that his writing is so hard to follow and larded with negative opinions about EVs that most media seem to conclude he halved his number when in fact he has slashed it by 10-20x once you understand what he’s saying. Hence the need for this blog post to set the record straight. I will need to do some untangling and explaining along the way so bear with me.

Before we start: I like and admire the work Ernst is doing. I don’t claim he’s a bad professor and I have no problem whatsoever with him rightly pointing out that driving a large (electric) car is bad for the environment. My reply is all about facts. That’s what I strive for and that’s what science is all about. Ernst agrees: “As I am a scientist, I never hesitate to question anything I had asserted when presented with new information. Such an attitude is at the very core of scientific thought. So, I have redone my calculations below, but integrating the information collected from these ‘attacks’ to expand upon the hypotheses that I used to make my calculations, and even to change one that needs to be changed. I have no problem recognizing this fact.” So this is not a pissing match! It’s a calculation.

Let’s start.

How bad is battery production?

CO2 emitted during battery production causes global warming. Ernst first claimed 312 kg CO2 was emitted for every kWh of battery produced. He now estimates 127 kg. Industry experts put it at 65 kg and it will become less when batteries are produced using renewable energy.

Let’s get the most complicated part out of the way first: how much CO2 is emitted while producing the battery for an electric car?

We describe batteries using kilowatt hour or kWh. One kWh means you can keep an electric motor using one kilowatt (a thousand watt) running for one hour. My first Nissan Leaf had 24kWh but mid-level cars will be gravitating to 60 kWh batteries and the biggest battery you can currently buy is 100 kWh.

A modern car battery weighs about 6 kilograms per kWh. You can reuse that battery between 2 thousand and 10 thousand times before you recycle. (For comparison, a liter of gasoline contains about 10 kWh but you can only use it once and cannot recycle. So currently, 6 kg of batteries replaces 200 to 1,000 liters before recycling.)

Then we measure emissions in kg CO2 per kWh of battery produced. While on TV, Ernst assumed that 312 kg is emitted for every kWh produced. He corrects many mistakes, but this is the only one he admits clearly. He describes how he used a highly theoretical publication about a prototype plant and that the authors of the publication offer a much lower 127 kg CO2 per kWh when production would scale up.

However, even this one clear correction is made harder to understand because he’s interjecting all kinds of attacks on EVs and production in China along the way, saying that in China – because of the coal-heavy electricity mix – the 127 kg would quadruple, followed by: “Long live ‘Made in China’!”

Ernst apparently can’t help himself but actually, there is an article from 2017 specifically about China that puts emissions at 97 kg CO2/kWh: not exactly the quadruple of the 127 kg that Ernst is implying. I think the best and most recent source in the literature (from 2019) pegs it at 106 kg/kWh. And from industry insiders, I hear that large state-of-the-art factories are already at 65 kg/kWh. Hard numbers are hard to come by here but I would say it’s safe to say Ernst’s estimates are still high.

Of course the biggest promise of EVs lies in the future. As mining equipment becomes electric and battery factories increasingly use solar and wind, the CO2 from battery production could become very low. And then batteries have become 50% lighter every 10-15 years and this is bound to continue for some time. E.g. the publication that Ernst uses only applies for batteries that are already about 50% heavier than state-of-the-art batteries. So future batteries will use much less material and be produced with clean electricity. And then: why would you throw away the battery? It’s not like we burned it and blew the results into the air. Second life use as a home battery seems a good idea. And although recycling is still in its infancy because there are few used car batteries yet, it’s widely seen as the future. All-in-all: batteries have the potential to become extremely low in CO2 waste (at least 10x better before 2050 would be my quick estimate) while there is simply very little progress left for gasoline and diesel.

How dirty is electricity?

CO2 emitted during electricity production causes global warming too. For reasons unexplained, Ernst first assumed Belgian electric vehicles drive on German electricity (550 grams/kWh). He now takes the EU mix over the coming ten years that he pegs at 317 grams per kWh. I can explain why he actually means 289 grams.

In the calculation on TV and in the first calculation on his new blog, Ernst takes an electricity mix of 550 grams/kWh. He says this is the energy mix of Germany. But what is not clear is why you should take the German energy mix when making calculations for a Belgian audience and Ernst doesn’t explain. But the Belgian emits only half that (257 grams/kWh) and the European mix is not far behind (296 grams/kWh according to the most up-to-date-source).

I think Ernst could confuse readers when he says in his new blog post “I’ll take a new hypothesis, more positive for the electric vehicle” when he stops using the German mix. I think an easier to understand formulation would be: “I made the mistake of taking the German instead of the Belgian or European energy mix and have corrected that.”

So his “new hypothesis” is that we should look at the EU mix over the coming ten years and that this is 275 grams/kWh.

He then says we must count the losses of charging/uncharging the battery and the losses of the electricity grid. But if I look at his numbers, he is double-counting the charging/uncharging of the battery. Either that or he is comparing with an electric vehicle that is so big you cannot buy it. If I correct the double-counting of charging/uncharging I arrive at 289 grams of CO2 per kWh.

Now I will take this number in my scenarios but I must point out he is being very pessimistic. First, he assumes the electric vehicle will only drive for 10 years. But the average age of cars in the Netherlands is 19.6 years and Tesla batteries can already last longer than that while new batteries degrade much slower still. (I have a Master student studying the latest literature on this at the moment and the gains are astounding.)

Ernst also assumes the European energy mix will not become greener in the coming ten years. I feel I must point out that he is at odds with any energy prediction and energy plan I know of. I would say the average prediction is 200 grams/kWh in 2030.

Don’t forget the production of gasoline

In his first calculation, Ernst forgot to include the CO2 emissions caused by the production of gasoline. He now includes this and it increases gasoline car emissions by 40%.

If Ernst would make these calculations more often he would not have made this beginners error. He is once again confusing his readers by saying this is just “a hypothesis” that is “friendly to the electric vehicle”. But every expert knows that if you include the production of electricity you should also include the production of fossil fuels. So a clearer formulation would be: “I forgot to include the production of gasoline but have added it in my new calculation.”

This actually makes a big difference. The CO2 per liter of gasoline increases from 2.28 kg to 3.2 kg. This means the emissions of the gasoline vehicle increase with a whopping 40%.

How much energy do electric and gasoline vehicles use?

For reasons not explained, Ernst decided to compare a large electric vehicle with a small gasoline car.

This is the strangest correction for me. First Ernst compared a small gasoline vehicle with an average electric vehicle. Now he suddenly decides he wants to compare a small gasoline vehicle with the largest EV he can find. That is, of course, his decision but he is not making this choice clear to his readers I think. So allow me to be clearer.

Ernst takes an electric vehicle that outputs 0.23 kWh/km and compares it with a gasoline car using 6 liter per 100 km.

I have made a little comparison of the energy use of different vehicles on the site of the American Environmental Protection Agency to show how strange this is.

(I use American numbers because the official numbers in Europe are wrong because of the car lobby.)

Auke Hoekstra

Auke Hoekstra

As you can see 0.23 kWh/km equates to a Tesla Model X: a large SUV. A direct comparison would be a Porsche Cayenne: a bit smaller and slower but close. So a comparable gasoline vehicle would use 11.28 liters per 100 km.

Instead, Ernst compares to a car using 6 liter per 100 km. That’s less than a VW Golf with a small motor and manual transmission.

Ernst’s new conclusion is hard to find

To me, it seems you must be an expert to understand what his new results are.

Drawing a conclusion from all this is straightforward. But Ernst is apparently confusing many readers if I see what they say on Twitter and in newspapers. They think the answer to his calculations can be found under the heading: “And now the calculation!” But at that point in his post, the Belgian/European cars still drive on the coal-heavy German electricity mix (?) while the production of gasoline is still excluded (?). It is not clear to me why you would display the results of these faulty assumptions so prominently.

In the second part he corrects that using the European electricity mix while including gasoline production but puts the results in an unobtrusive paragraph under the new “Hypothesis 5” where he says:

“Let’s try to discuss Hypothesis 1 and Hypothesis 2 again. These two hypotheses lead us to CO2 emissions of the order of 10,153 kg for the manufacture of an 80 kWh battery. As discussed previously, the CO2 emissions associated with battery manufacture can vary quite a bit, depending on where the battery is manufactured. It’s very difficult to get an entirely clear picture of this. I have the impression that, in 2019, we must be somewhere in the range of 8000 kg – 18000 kg of CO2 emitted for the manufacture of 80 kWh batteries. With our new set of assumptions, an electric vehicle with a battery of 80 kWh would begin to have a lower carbon footprint than a petrol-driven vehicle somewhere between 67,226 km and 151,259 km travelled.”

What Ernst is saying in the lower number is: if I correct my mistake of forgetting gasoline production, if battery production is close to my corrected source, if I assume the European electricity mix is not getting cleaner and if I compare a very big EV to a small gasoline car, then the EV is greener after 67,226 km.

The higher number says the same but assumes battery production emits 225 kg CO2/kWh without naming any source.

If you find this confusing: I was confused too.

The Calculations!

Using Ernst’s corrected numbers, a large EV becomes greener than a small gasoline car after 81 thousand km. If you compare like with like the EV becomes greener after about 35 thousand km. Using the best information I have available, I would put it at 19 thousand now and 7 thousand in the future.

It’s not rocket science. Let me show you.

Battery production
If we multiply 127 kg CO2/kWh and 80 kWh we get (and I quote Ernst): “10,153 kg for the manufacture of an 80 kWh battery.” I round Ernst to 10,160 kg of CO2 for the production of the battery

EV emissions while driving
0.23 kWh/km multiplied by 289 grams/kWh means 66 grams of CO2 per km for the EV

Gasoline car emissions while driving 6 liter/100km multiplied by 3.192 kg of CO2 per liter means 192 gr CO2/km for the gasoline car

The result
The EV emits 192 – 66 = 125 gr CO2/km less than the gasoline car. 10,160/0.125 = 81,248 km.

So after 81,248 km, a Tesla Model X is gaining on a small gasoline car using Ernst’s assumption

That was scenario 1 in the table below. But we can also make some other interesting scenarios.

Scenario 2. We could compare the Tesla Model X with a car his own size. Then the Model X is greener than his counterpart (we took the Porsche Cayenne) after 35 thousand km.

Scenario 3. We could compare an electric VW Golf with a gasoline VW Golf using the assumptions of Ernst to get electric is greener after 41 thousand km.

Scenario 4. Again comparing eGolf against gasoline Golf using Ernst his new assumptions but battery production according to the best official sources. This gives 35 thousand km.

Scenario 5. These are my best guess assumptions: battery production based on industry estimates of someone I trust and CO2 emissions over the lifetime of the EV based on mainstream assumptions. Then I get about 19 thousand km before the EV is greener.

Scenario 6. This is the future I’m doing it all for. Mining and production of batteries will use renewable electricity and electric cars will drive on renewable electricity. When that happens they will become greener after 7 thousand km and less than that if the battery was recycled.

auke hoekstra

Conclusion

Electric cars are really much better for the climate than gasoline or diesel cars, even according to the new calculations from prof. Damien Ernst and certainly according to the most up-to-date information.

PS: I hope everyone understands that video conferencing, electric bikes and trains are better for the environment than large cars, whether electric or not.