Ecology and emotion
Dr. Wiebke Zimmer of Öko-Institut e. V. and Audi electric powertrain developer Siegfried Pint. The scientist and the engineer are discussing issues that move people: How are young urbanites getting around? How is personal mobility changing? Will we soon be driving cars powered by electricity or innovative fuels? And which path makes ecological and economic sense?
The past meets the future:
Two experts from the field of tomorrow’s mobility meet in a historically protected electrical substation. The substation was built in 1927-28 and supplied electricity to many residents of the Prenzlauer Berg district. Today it primarily serves as a backdrop for movies and photo shoots. And as the perfect location for a high-voltage discussion.
Politics and electric mobility
Ms. Zimmer, what do public policymakers need to do to effectively promote electric mobility?
Zimmer: In my opinion, regulatory policy is the most effective. You have to design CO₂ and emission limits so that manufacturers have no other choice than to bring electric cars onto the market. Buying incentives can also provide a boost – getting money from the government is, after all, a psychological factor. These would have to be financed in a way that does not impact revenue, however, through a fee on the petroleum tax, or through a bonus-malus system.
Pint: Such a bonus-malus system is actually already established through fleet consumption. In our portfolio management, we always have to consider that for every new large car, many smaller new cars also have to be added.
So what would you like to see in terms of public policy?
Pint: I would like to see all of the stakeholders do their homework when it comes to the charging infrastructure, since the lack of this infrastructure is a very clear stumbling block to carbon-neutral mobility. When I drove to Berlin yesterday with the Q7 e-tron quattro, I couldn’t find a decent place to recharge the car on either the autobahn or in the city. We obviously have a classic chicken-or-the-egg problem: the automotive industry does not want to provide the infrastructure for a specific brand, and the public sector is waiting for the cars to be offered.
And who should go first?
Pint: In my opinion, the issue of charging is an overriding one and is a duty of society or of the national economy. It shouldn’t be the case that each car manufacturer constructs its own charging infrastructure with its own energy provider.
Hydrogen as an alternative
Another alternative drive option is the hydrogen fuel cell. What do you think of this?
Pint: In the production chain as we have designed it, hydrogen occurs very early on. If we were to use it in a fuel cell, it would guarantee zero emissions locally. Hydrogen can certainly be of interest for long-distance mobility, including, incidentally, for commercial vehicles. Compared with the battery electric vehicle, the environmental footprint and capacity is much more favourable when driving this way.
And who would build the infrastructure in this case?
Pint: Here I would call even more loudly for the national economy or public sector than I do in the case of electric mobility (grins).
Zimmer: It will be essential to decide which fuel and which drive system will be used to cope with long distances, so that we can achieve an infrastructure that is as standardised as possible. In our analysis, we come to the conclusion that the fuel cell has the highest cost in national economic terms even over the long term, despite technical improvements. The main factors are the costs of the fuel-cell drive system and the high cost of providing the energy – although its future development is not fully clear.
Pint: That’s true: The material and manufacturing costs currently exceed that for battery electric cars.
Zimmer: The vision, however, would be to directly use the electricity anywhere it is possible. Why don’t we build battery electric cars with range extenders? For the tiny amount of liquid fuel we would use here, we could take electricity-based fuels and dispense with the expensive hydrogen infrastructure.
Pint: That could be an economically acceptable method, if we limit ourselves to 180, 200 kilometres of battery range and also install an economical combustion engine that operates on Audi e-gas. But I would like to continue pursuing fuel cell technology anyway, because for us as a manufacturer it would be too risky to put all our eggs in one basket. If the matter takes off and customer demand comes, we have to be in the position to respond quickly.
Raw materials and recycling
What does the well-to-wheel analysis for an electrified car look like? Isn’t it carrying a heavy ecological backpack – just considering the rare earths alone?
Pint: Rare earths are only used in permanently excited electric machines and there are alternatives to these. The battery contains nickel, manganese and cobalt, among other things – these materials have to be introduced into a recycling loop. After their initial use in the car, they would first be further used in a storage power station, and only then would they be recycled in a way that makes sense.
Zimmer: But despite the recycling, we should handle resources efficiently and minimize their use as much as possible. The lithium-ion battery in your concept car is very large. If all three million cars that are newly introduced to German roads each year were similarly equipped electric cars, then almost 90 percent of the lithium production worldwide would go into these cars. That would be an argument for less high-powered and somewhat smaller premium cars, wouldn’t it?
Pint: The lithium content determines the range, and we want to offer 500 kilometres and more – since to us this means it is suitable as a household’s main car. A small electric car that is only an add-on for the customer does not replace any other car.