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Grey is the colour

30 June 2017
Earlier this week I was driving from Cologne to Calais on the A4 and approaching Aachen on the German-Dutch border passed the Weisweiler power plant that was belching out smoke/steam at a
prodigious rate. I think it may be nuclear but am unsure as Germany has a non-nuclear policy, but you could smell it in the car long before you could see it. The stuff being emitted may be clean and
green, I don’t know, but the thought did cross my mind that if one of these things was sitting in Hampstead in north London, in Versailles near Paris, in Santa Monica in California – you get my drift –
would the passion for electric cars be so prolific. Call me cynical if you like, but I couldn’t help thinking of the NIMBY – not in my back yard – phrase.
I am touching upon this because today Ricardo, the highly respected engineering consultancy, has published a strategic white paper setting out its vision for an electric future for the passenger car.
With all its contacts in the automotive industry around the world and its bank of in-house expects, such a report has to be taken really seriously. It may not be motorsport related, but we still need to
pay attention if we are to remain relevant as an industry and respond to any challenges or opportunities. The report states that whether through hybridisation or substitution with pure battery-electric architectures, the trend towards the electrification of passenger powertrains is now firmly established as carmakers strive to meet fuel economy and CO2 emissions targets.
At the same time the trend is for cities to go car free with the recent draft proposal published by Transport for London being one of the latest to set out its vision for the future where fossil-fuelled cars and buses will be banned. Even from next year, any orders for a diesel double decker will be banned and for a diesel single decker in 2019. The message is that as long as you drive an electric car you will be okay.
However, a very recent report by the IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute, which I hasten to add in the name of balance has been disputed, states that electric car batteries are eco-villains
during their manufacturing when several tons of CO2 are generated even before the batteries leave the factory.
For each kilowatt-hour of storage capacity in the battery, emissions of 150 to 200 kilograms of carbon dioxide are generated in the factory.
The researchers have not studied the individual car brand batteries, just how they were produced or what electrical mix they used.
However, to understand the importance of battery size, two standard electric cars on the market, Nissan Leaf and Tesla Model S, have batteries of approximately 30 kWh and 100 kWh respectively.
Even before a car is bought, CO2 emissions equivalent to 5.3 tons and 17.5 tons, respectively, gets produced. By way of comparison, a trip for a person returning from Stockholm to New York by air emits more than 600 kilograms of CO2, according to the UN organisation ICAO’s calculation model.
Another conclusion of the study is that about half the emissions come from producing the raw materials and the other half from the battery factory. The mining accounts for only a small proportion of between 10-20 percent.
What has all this to do with motorsport? Probably not a lot right now, but I just felt compelled to say that it’s not a black and white picture, but a series of greys that vary in tone for a huge variety of reasons, something I’m afraid that politicians in this sound bite age will not address.
So, petrol is bad, diesel is worse.
The future is the electric car and we had better get used to it.

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