Issue: April 2022, A quiet climate champion – The future of e-mobility
“Most people who are opposed to e-vehicles have probably never even sat in one.”
Interview with Drs. Auke Hoekstra (Eindhoven University of Technology)
The batteries run down too fast and can’t be recycled and the emissions are far too high. These are just some of the countless myths surrounding e-mobility. Drs. Auke Hoekstra has heard them all – and is constantly debunking misleading or even false statements about electric vehicles for his 25,000+ Twitter followers. A Program Director at Eindhoven University of Technology, Auke Hoekstra looks at how the energy system and mobility can become greenhouse gas-neutral. In this interview with eco@work, he explains how these myths arise, why they are wrong and how they can best be debunked.
Drs. Auke Hoekstra, which of the myths about e-mobility has annoyed you the most?
The fable that e-vehicles have to clock up extremely high mileage in order to offset the additional emissions from their production. At one point, there was talk of 100,000 kilometres and more. The real figure for most cars is closer to 30,000 km.
How did these inaccurate figures arise?
First of all, the emissions from battery production are often exaggerated, or obsolete data are used. Of course, it makes a significant difference whether the batteries are manufactured in a modern gigafactory or a small, outdated production unit, although there are very few of those still in existence. What’s more, the emissions are often calculated on the basis of the current electricity mix, ignoring the fact that our electricity is becoming increasingly green and emissions performance is constantly improving. And in the comparison with combustion engine vehicles, estimates of their fuel consumption tend to be far more optimistic than the reality, while emissions from petrol and diesel production are rarely factored in.
And battery lifetimes are often underestimated.
That’s true. In fact, nowadays, they last longer than the cars themselves. The rule of thumb is that a battery should be replaced when it still has 80% of its capacity. The new electric cars would have to clock up mileage well in excess of 500,000 kilometres for that, and the figure is likely to increase further over time.
How do you respond to the claim that the batteries can’t be recycled?
I say that it is factually incorrect. We can already recycle more than 95% of the basic materials nowadays. In practice, that is rarely achieved, for one simple reason: very few electric cars are being scrapped at present because they haven’t been around for long enough, so very few batteries need to be recycled. Of course, it is not worth setting up a recycling plant for batteries that are simply not there. But I am sure this will come in time, also because recycling will reduce the costs of battery production.
What is the best way to debunk the myths about e-mobility?
There is an apt saying: nature cannot be fooled. I am convinced that science works and that through science, the facts will become increasingly clear. And the facts are that electricity production is emitting less and less CO2 and battery production is constantly improving. We need to explain this so that people understand. At the same time, we should be demonstrating the countless benefits of e-mobility: the cars are fast and quiet – and they are fun to drive. That’s the narrative that we need to be sharing. Most people who are opposed to electric vehicles have probably never even sat in one.
You yourself can often be found sitting in an electric car.
Oh yes, I bought an electric car as soon as I could afford one; that was seven years ago. My first electric car had a range of 140 km in summer and 100 km in winter. I like pushing my boundaries, so I often ended up stranded somewhere along the way. That happened on one occasion because I didn’t consider that there was a strong headwind, which reduced the range. That kind of thing doesn’t happen to me now. My current electric car has a range of 350-400 km.
Thank you for talking to eco@work.
The interviewer was Christiane Weihe.
Talking to eco@work: Drs. Auke Hoekstra, Program Director at Eindhoven University of Technology and founder of Zenmo Simulations
Drs. Auke Hoekstra was already working on the future of electromobility at Eindhoven University of Technology in 2015: as a Senior Advisor on electromobility, he developed the SparkCity model, designed to predict the introduction of electric vehicles, the development of charging infrastructure and the impacts on the electricity grid. Drs. Hoekstra now heads Eindhoven’s research programme “Neon Research – Lighting the way to zero emission energy and mobility”. The scientist from the Netherlands also set up Zenmo Simulations in 2018; its aim is to develop models in order to forecast and research the transition to a zero emission energy system and mobility.
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