Is salvation in the electric car ?
Hervé Nifenecker (Save the Climate NGOs)
“The need to reduce CO2 emissions as well as the prospect of a sharp increase in oil prices, once the crisis has passed, has led manufacturers as well as the state to accelerated development of electric cars. Is this “rush” justified or unthinking, reflecting a fashion phenomenon as we find unfortunately so many examples at a time when all projects must have the label “sustainable development” to be taken seriously? The first question is obviously whether the development of electric cars is economically reasonable. Economic outlook to fix the ideas it is useful to retain the hypothesis of an all-electric car using lithium-iron phosphate batteries. As an illustration we consider the Nissan-Renault / Better Place project: a Kangoo-type vehicle with an energy capacity of 25kWh batteries, a range of 165 km (0.15 kWh / km), a battery life allowing to cover 200,000 km (2000 cycles), or about 10 years. Let us recall some economic data on this basis. The battery price of 25kWh is currently around 10,000 €, which can be considered an overpriced compared to the non-electric model. Over a period of 10 years and for a mileage of 200,000 km, electricity consumption at the off-peak rate would amount to € 2010, whereas for a standard model consuming 6l / 100km at 1 € / l, the expenditure would reach 12000 €. The over-cost of the electric car would be compensated in 10 years. It is true that one should take into account the respective changes in oil and electricity prices on the one hand, and the TIPP and the future carbon tax on the other. For smaller urban cars, with a battery with a capacity of 10 kWh, the over-cost is amortized in less than 6 years. Globally, for 10 million electric cars of the Kangoo type, about 5 billion euros of purchase of imported oil will be saved each year. Consumers will save about 10 billion, but the state will lose around 5 billion because of the decline in TIPP and VAT revenues. Also in the case of a fleet of 10 million cars, one can envisage that it will be necessary to supply 1 million batteries each year, generating a turnover of about 10 billion euros, and 200 000 jobs! The question of their location is, of course, of prime importance … It is high time that the French battery industry wakes up! All in all, economically, the bet of the electric car is worth trying. What about the ecological side? Can electric cars help reduce CO2 emissions? The 1,200 liters of diesel used by the heat engine lead to the emission of 2.9 tons of CO2 per year. By themselves, electric motors do not emit CO2. Some, however, want to affect the CO2 emitted at the electricity production stage. Taking the mean value of emissions in Europe (600 gCO2 / kWh), the consumption of 3000 kWh would lead to the annual emission of 1.8 tons of CO2 per year. In the case of electricity generated during off-peak hours in France (40 gCO2 / kWh), emissions are reduced to 0.15 tonnes of CO2. In the French case, a fleet of 10 million private electric cars would thus avoid the emission of 28 million tonnes of CO2 per year, ie more than 7% of our total emissions and about a quarter of emissions from the transport sector . By admitting a CO2 price of 50 euros per tonne, the price of avoided carbon would reach more than one billion euros each year. Globally, with the commissioning of 600 million electric cars and retaining a CO2 content of 600 gCO2 / kWh, the reduction in emissions would reach 840 million tonnes, more than 10% of the emissions due to transport. From the ecological point of view, the development of electric cars is undoubtedly justified. Will there be enough lithium? For some time it has been said here and there that the development of electric cars will be greatly limited by the reserves of lithium. The scientific basis of this skepticism is found in the article by W. Tahil. The lithium reserves estimated by the latter are between 6.8 (economically exploitable reserves) and 15 million tons (total reserves). Note that the estimates of these reserves are dependent on the acceptable extraction costs. More recent work estimates resources (excluding economic considerations) at 28.5 million tonnes. Currently the price of lithium is around $ 5500 per tonne of lithium carbonate, or about 30 € / kg lithium.
The weight of lithium included in a battery of capacity 25 kWh is of the order of 3 kg. The cost of lithium in the battery is therefore around 90 Euros. This figure is compared to the price of 10 000 € of the battery. It can be seen that a 10-fold increase in the price of lithium would have little influence on the total price of electric cars. It therefore seems justified to retain the high estimate of reserves at 28 million tons of lithium. W.Tahil is considering the commissioning of 600 million electric vehicles. The lithium stock in the batteries of these cars would therefore be 1.8 million tons, a figure well below the reserves. W.Tahil does not extend to the recycling of lithium, which leads him to consider that these 600 million cars are replaced every 10 years, or that on average it would be necessary to find 180000 tons of lithium every year . In a hundred years we see that the reserves are largely undermined. But, not only recycling lithium is possible, but it is mandatory. Under these conditions everything changes. Even a relatively low recycling rate of 90% would make it impossible to exhaust reserves before a thousand years. There remains a real challenge: to develop production quickly enough. At present, it is about 23,000 tons. Suppose that we want to reach 600 million electric cars in 20 years. This means putting into service an average of 30 million cars each year requiring an average annual extraction of 90 000 tons of lithium, which is 4 times more than at present. This corresponds to an annual rate of increase of 14%. Fast, no doubt, but not impossible. To be complete, it must be noted that the distribution of reserves could have geo-strategic consequences. Indeed, the most profitable operations consist in extracting lithium from brines which are found either in underground saline aquifers or in surface saline waters. The largest deposits are in Chile (3 million tonnes), Bolivia (5.4 million tonnes), Argentina (2 million tonnes), China (2.7 million tonnes), Russia Million tonnes). In other words, industrialized countries are likely to depend on Latin American countries for their lithium as they depend on the Middle East for their oil. With the nuance, however, that a shortage would not prevent the cars from rolling; It would call into question the rate of increase of the park. What would be the need to increase nuclear capacity to power electric cars? A car traveling 20 000 km / year consumes 3000 kWh / year. The total consumption of 10 million cars would then reach 30 TWh, or 6% of the French production, a little less than 4 reactors of 1 GW, or 6% of the installed capacity. In fact, the nuclear power needed would be lower: between one and six in the morning, the production of nuclear power plants is between 5 and 10% lower than their diurnal production (hence the interest of the double tariff for EDF) . Under these conditions, if the refills take place preferentially at night, it can be estimated that it would not be necessary to increase the nuclear power to meet the new demand. ”
In french :