It's decided, I change my car. I give up my polluting diesel and my ever more expensive gasoline and I switch to electric. Not only will it cost me almost nothing to fill up, I will stop feeling guilty every time I go to the pump, but in addition, I am doing something for the planet since I will no longer pollute. It's all good.
It's a safe bet that many of us had to start with this kind of thinking before taking the step towards electromobility or considering it. With lots of bonuses and tax incentives, it's hard to resist. In addition, the performance of electric motors is bluffing and offers sensations that are often only found with vehicles with high-end heat engines much more expensive.
Let us recognize, however, that the good conscience finds itself a little stuck between entry-level vehicles which, it must be admitted, do not make people dream too much and high-end vehicles overpriced reserved for the "happy few" . But if we disregard the purely aesthetic side of the object which remains a judgment specific to each person, the main thing is to work for the planet and to make a small contribution.
So before I'm looked at like a smoker in the middle of a diner, I go to the dealership and go green! This is necessarily the right trend to follow since everyone says so. The government encourages, Bercy exonerates, the manufacturer manufactures, the concessionaire explains, nature thanks.
But is it because everyone says it that everyone is right? As so often the reality seems more complex. Electric vehicles are, in reality, no more environmentally friendly than internal combustion cars. At least nowadays. In the more or less near future, they will certainly become so. But right now there are too many flaws. In view of the age of the thermal vehicle industry, that of the electric vehicle is still in its infancy. This is why it is impossible to say that the electric car is ecological and that it does not pollute. If we put all the stages of the manufacture of an electric vehicle end to end, the ecological balance is not so brilliant. Add up the environmental impacts and greenhouse gas emissions, and we are far from the target. Certainly, manufacturers and dealers have found juicy sources of growth in a struggling automotive industry, governments are seizing the opportunity to re-qualify in new professions, but nature will not thank you.
There is no shortage of studies of all kinds carried out over the years in the field. All agree, however, that one of the major concerns of the electric car remains its battery.
A battery must first be made. It is made up of valuable materials, but also dangerous and polluting . There are toxic metals as well as rare and precious metals with also plastic and also acids. It is difficult to imagine, therefore, that the manufacture of an electric car battery has no impact on the environment and that it does not cause CO² emissions. Added to this is the geographic dimension, not to say geostrategic. Indeed, some materials used in the composition of a battery, such as rare earths, are only found in certain countries, mainly China. So, while waiting, the “Airbus of batteries” which will see Europe manufacture its own batteries, the vast majority of them are still manufactured in Asia in factories which draw their electricity from coal! This is another aspect that tarnishes the ecological image of the electric car a little more.
A battery must be replaced. An electric SUV does not have the same battery as a Zoe and they all have varying lifespans. Did you know that a battery deteriorates if the vehicle is not driven much or if you do quick charges? And it is better to remain cautious about the data provided by the manufacturers on their life cycles. Therefore, you must remain vigilant so as not to have to change your battery too soon.
A battery must be recycled. It is estimated that 700,000 tonnes of batteries will need to be recycled in 2035, compared to 15,000 today. A French factory specializing in recycling batteries explains how it works: “The French requirement is to recycle 50% of a lithium ion battery, explains the executive. We recycle more than 70%. As for rechargeable Nickel-Metal Hydride batteries, again the standard is 50%, but more than 75% of the battery is recovered. »What happens to the remaining 20% to 30%? "They are destroyed, burned and at the end of it 2% remain which are buried, specifies a person in charge. The impact on the environment is real, but “we are working to limit it as much as possible. "
We can read that the plant is: "placed in a low pressure environment to prevent particles from escaping, employees wearing masks dismantle the batteries, sort the different parts, destroy them in ovens or melt them to recover the metals: nickel, aluminum, copper, cobalt, lithium as well as the famous rare earths (La, Ce, Nd, Pr). Sent to another site, these metals are refined in order to purify them as much as possible. "
In the end, it emerges that the production of an electric vehicle consumes twice the energy and generates twice as many greenhouse gases as that of a thermal vehicle. Even if a long use of the vehicle with many kilometers could qualify this bad figure (provided that the battery is manufactured with “clean” means), the electric car is not more ecological than a thermal car. And to the chagrin of wealthy amateurs or those willing to bleed themselves to acquire a high-end model, the ecological dimension is even further away! Sorry, but it would be better to drive a small electric car if we aim to be in line with our eco-responsible aspirations.
What about the extraction and refining of metals and the electronic production necessary for the development of the vehicle? How is the environmental damage caused to soils and waterways quantified? Who cares about the possibly disastrous carbon footprint of the materials contained? All of this is as opaque as it is remote.
In reality, it is appropriate to approach the subject from a different angle. The pollution of an electric car is indirect. It is no longer quantified by measurements taken at the outlet of the exhaust pipe or by pollution estimates in built-up areas. It is assessed by all these new manufacturing processes in countries where ecological standards are more or less vague. It is true that all this is far from home, but on a planetary scale, this reported pollution counts. Buying an electric vehicle is simply buying a vehicle. But then of two evils which one to choose? Hard to say. The purchase of a vehicle must be considered in relation to its use. Proper and useful use can offset the manufacturing impact somewhat.
However, we will take the electric side. It is not yet a panacea and there are many areas for improvement to make the electric vehicle the long-awaited eco-responsible mobility alternative.
But we bet it will be in the near future; when Europe produces its own batteries, when fossil energy will no longer be used for their production, when its sources of recharging will be renewable. The network and infrastructure dedicated to electricity will also need to be expanded to meet user requirements. At that point, it will be time to combine the thermal vehicle with the past.
While awaiting the arrival of other solutions such as, for example, hydrogen.