Electric batteries will curb climate change. We explain why
The cards have been dealt. Petrol and diesel will gradually disappear, replaced by alternative power sources: electricity, hydrogen and synthetic fuels. Which of these will come out tops? We reveal the answer below.
The consultancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) recently published a study looking at the options for greenhouse gas emission-free mobility. They did done so from a cost perspective because, ultimately, the most cost-effective alternative will win. We’ll start at the end (spoiler alert!): the analysts’ verdict is that batteries will lead the pack in this race.
Lithium-ion batteries store energy by transferring ions between poles in electrochemical cells.
Fuel cells use hydrogen to generate electricity through a chemical process known as electrolysis.
Synthetic fuels are produced from coal, natural gas and biomass, using thermochemical processes. Carbon dioxide is captured during the production of these fuels, converting it into a raw material. Used in a car, these fuels generate far less pollution than a conventional petrol or diesel vehicle, although they are not emission free like electric or fuel cell models.
Cutting emissions… Beyond the vehicle
If sustainable mobility is to be carbon neutral from a climate balance perspective, power must be produced wherever possible using renewable sources. PwC has carried out a study based on the assumption that only wind power is used, to calculate how many wind turbines would need to be erected in a country such as Germany to supply power for this form of mobility. Over 200,000 would be needed to manufacture synthetic fuels, while only a third of this figure would be required for electric vehicles. Hydrogen production sits midway between the two.
The amount of money that would have to be spent varies according to the chosen solution: storage and recharging points (batteries); electrolysers and service stations (hydrogen); or fuel manufacturing plants (synthetic fuels). Investments in new facilities and electricity grid repowering would have to be made in all cases, but these would be way higher for fossil fuels than for the two other technologies.
Batteries: the efficient solution
Batteries are more efficient than synthetic fuels and hydrogen. Every kilowatt hour of energy powering an electric vehicle requires an input of 1.4 kilowatt hour. In other words, only a third of the energy is lost. Double the amount of energy is used for hydrogen because two-thirds are lost. Up to six times more energy is required to use synthetic fuels than in the case of batteries. This is because the industrial process is complex and combustion engines are less efficient.
Drivers also save
PwC has calculated the price of synthetic fuels, hydrogen and electricity from the grid. The conclusion is that the latter two are far more competitive than fossil fuels. Lastly, drivers of electric vehicles would save more than in any of the other cases.
In short, the benefits of using batteries as a solution for mobility have never before been so well documented and clearly presented. Based on PwC’s calculations, hydrogen and synthetic fuels are not a true alternative, at least for now. Because being sustainable also means being economical, and this is where electric vehicles steal a march.