The carbon footprint of electric cars is lower than that of other vehicles at the start because of their battery. Then the curve is reversed.
What is the most climate-friendly mode of transport? Car buyers are increasingly asking this question. A study by the Paul Scherrer Institute provides answers.
The carbon footprint of electric cars is worse than that of other vehicles before they have driven their first kilometers. But the more these increase, the more the balance is reversed.
Producing a battery for an electric car results in relatively high emissions. But running it on electricity produced from renewable sources more than compensates for this initial disadvantage, according to the study by the Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI) published in the January edition of its magazine.
Brian Cox and Christian Bauer, two researchers at PSI, have conducted large-scale research to determine the carbon footprint of different propulsion systems over the entire lifecycle of passenger cars. This study was carried out on behalf of the Federal Office of Energy (SFOE).
If you take into account the entire life cycle of a vehicle, from its construction to its destruction, battery electric propulsion obtains the best climate score. The Swiss energy mix, which gives pride of place to nuclear power and hydroelectricity, contributes to this result.
Random fuel cell
Second place goes to the fuel cell, provided certain conditions are met. The electricity needed to run the electric motor does not come from a socket, but from a reaction of hydrogen with oxygen in the water, releasing energy.
However, the key factor is how the hydrogen is produced. Its production is very climate-friendly if it is carried out with the help of solar energy. But the Swiss energy mix makes this combination more difficult.
Cars that run on natural gas have similar performance to diesel vehicles. A propulsion system using synthetic natural gas (SNG), an artificial substitute for natural gas, could one day be of interest if large amounts of excess electricity from renewable sources are produced in the future.
Importance of the electrical network
Gas has the advantage that it can be stored very easily and inexpensively and that it is available when less electricity is produced. However, natural gas cars that run on synthetic natural gas (SNG) consume five to six times more electricity than electric cars, Mr. Bauer said.
Ultimately, the decisive factor for the carbon footprint of the various propulsion systems lies in the characteristics of the electricity grid of the future. If the latter is quickly converted into renewable energy sources, alternative engines could prevail.
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