Several studies focus not only on the amount of gases they emit while driving, but also on their global sustainability
Hybrid cars may not be as sustainable as it seems. So much so that there are voices that even question that they should receive favorable treatment, both in tax matters and access to large cities.
Various studies carried out, both internationally and in Spain, question whether this type of vehicle is more sustainable than other car models.
In this sense, the researchers Gonzalo Puig-Samper Naranjo and María Jesús García Martínez, from the Higher Technical School of Mining and Energy Engineers of the Polytechnic University of Madrid (UPM), carried out an investigation on the entire
Lifecycle of hybrid cars (not plug-in) and combustion cars (both gasoline and diesel).
Gonzalo Puig-Samper points out that this report differs from the majority in that the entire life cycle is studied. “Many studies, especially from companies or associations, are limited to the useful life of the vehicle. If you only look at that aspect, electric vehicles are indeed more sustainable because, due to direct emissions, they are better than combustion vehicles », he reflects.
This researcher understands that, in this sense, this type of vehicle is promoted as a very ecological alternative. “In cities they have a great influence on air quality. But this does not mean that they have a lower global environmental impact than other technologies », he warns.
Thus, together with María Jesús García Martínez, he studied “not only the local impacts on air quality, but also those that are occurring throughout the entire supply chain.”
Manufacturing tips the scales
In this sense, and when quantifying the impact of vehicles taking into account their manufacture and their entire associated chain in the supply chain, the impacts of hybrid and electric cars are much greater than those of combustion.
“They need a battery and, normally, they are cars that have components made with materials (the so-called critical materials) that are in very distant areas,” explains Puig-Samper.
The extraction of these materials, their treatment and their transport imply “a series of environmental problems, which are not linked to climate change, but which entail terrestrial acidification or eutrophication”.
In fact, this report takes a special look at the useful life of both the vehicle and the batteries it needs. “The longer it is, the more I avoid having to produce more batteries. If we have to make a replacement after ten years, the impact that this has on the total count is very large », he explains.
For this reason, what the study concludes is that, although hybrids and electric cars do help to mitigate climate change in the current conditions of the Spanish electric mix, they have a series of much greater impacts than conventional cars. Consequences that would not be occurring in Spain, but at a global level.
For this expert, what is really interesting about his analysis is that something is being promoted as completely ecological without really knowing it, only evaluating the local situation and without contemplating the problem of taking those environmental impacts to other countries.
This is not the only report that would call into question the sustainability of electric and hybrid models. A) Yes,
the analyzes of the lobby groups Transport and Environment and Greenpeace suggest that plug-in hybrid vehicles (powered by an electric motor using a battery that is recharged by plugging in or by an on-board petrol or diesel engine) emit an average of 120g of CO2 per km, compared to 44g per km in official laboratory tests.
other report carried out in Switzerland also questioned the benefits (especially the lower emissions) of this type of vehicle. The publication of the results of this report led, in fact, to one of the country’s cantons deciding to eliminate the economic aid that, until then, this type of vehicle received.
Asked Gonzalo Puig-Samper about this aspect, the researcher understands that, at least in Spain, most of the aid received by this type of car is related to air quality. “From that point of view, also taking into account the measures that are currently being taken to lower the maximum speed on certain streets to 30 km/h, the hybrid vehicle should be eligible for this type of aid, because they would circulate in an electric regime. without using the internal combustion engine.
However, he also adds that another problem is the variety of hybrids that are beginning to be on the market. “There is a new generation, the so-called ‘mild hybrid’ or soft hybrids, which should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, because not all of them have the same autonomy or the same ability to drive electric at certain speeds,” he explains.
This expert stresses that the conclusions of his study should be limited solely to Spain and its energy mix situation. In fact, he claims that similar reports from the Czech Republic and Poland provide different results. It depends a lot, thus, on the energy dependence on oil and other fuels that the economy of each country has.
Moreover, in the study carried out a forecast is made of how this sustainability of electric and hybrid vehicles can be both in 2030 and in 2050. «What we conclude is that electric and hybrid vehicles will help to mitigate climate change in these scenarios. But, again, he warns that this “could be completely different in the case of another country.”
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