Electromobility - quantum leap or hype?

A fictional debate by our editorial team, in which two contrary perspectives are elaborated on. Based on facts as well as abstract thoughts - Practically, pro and contra

electric mobility
Photo by Martin Katler on Unsplash

The topic electric mobility has long since become part of countless fundamental debates in society, politics and the media, be it in connection with climate policy objectives or more innovative Mobility concepts for the coming decade. This emotional topic, on which, as is so often the case, there are two sides of the same coin, also marks the start of our new "DEBATE" section:

The basis for this is a fictitious discussion by our editorial team, in which two contrary points of view are prepared in an abstract and fact-based manner, virtually pro and contra. Chain of arguments of apparently opposing poles should be prepared transparently and comprehensibly in order to show different perspectives and to counteract a crusty "black and white" drawer thinking.

Enjoy reading.

Pros electromobility

  • Pioneering technology with high development potential
  • A necessary impetus for climate efficiency
  • Positive "primary and secondary effects"
  • Progress! Not perfection

Pioneering technology with high development potential

electric vehicles (EVs) have an almost unbeatable energy efficiency: if you look at the efficiency, electric motors already achieve around 90% today (i.e. 90% of the energy supplied is actually used by the vehicle in terms of "kinetic energy") and thus twice as high as with conventional ones Internal combustion engines. This consideration only relates to the isolated consideration of the vehicle and does not take into account the entire value chain including energy generation, but is intended to symbolically illustrate the efficiency of EVs; and we are only at the beginning of the evolution of this technology or mass production, so that further increases in efficiency are quite conceivable.

Regardless of whether long-term purely battery-powered electric vehicles or the so-called hydrogen-based fuel cell should prevail, both variants use the electric motor: that is, contrary to the sometimes widespread mistake in connection with "redundant" electromobility investments Should fuel cells prevail, important steps are already being taken today for mobility in the 21st century beyond the combustion engine.

Ideas and first concepts for electric motors already existed more than 100 years ago, but this technology is only suitable for the mass market today due to the greatly improved possibilities for energy storage and the associated range. Insofar as the range problem can also be tackled consistently in the future, there is no longer any doubt in our view regarding the superiority of electric motors over internal combustion engines: in addition to the energy efficiency already mentioned, the electric motor impresses with almost unbeatable performance data (see acceleration, etc.) and relatively compact construction. The latter affects both the pure electric motor itself and the entire drive train or "power train" which, in contrast to conventional vehicles with internal combustion engines, does not need a gearbox and is therefore - at least according to expert estimates - less susceptible to repairs. This results in a lot of advantages for the consumer compared to the status quo.

A necessary impetus for climate efficiency

DWhen viewed in isolation, electric vehicles have an unbeatable life cycle assessment is undisputed. However, today's critics sometimes argue that this is far from clear when it comes to a holistic view of combustion engines - the typical example in these cases is mostly the electricity generated from coal-fired power plants for electric vehicles. This is undoubtedly a relevant aspect as of today, but from our point of view one has to consider the topic of electromobility in connection with the emerging holistic energy transition where the proportion of renewable energies will increase steadily: be it because of the political will now available or because of the general technological quantum leap such as improved energy storage in wind and solar energy.


It is also likely that we will move towards a more decentralized energy supply in the future and the electric vehicle can play a central role here. Countless private households already have solar systems on their roofs. The energy going beyond your own daily requirements (e.g. on days with a disproportionate number of hours of sunshine) can in future be fed into the electric vehicle and vice versa, for example on less sunny days. The electric vehicle thus becomes an integral part of a decentralized energy supply.

Now the share of renewable energies will not be able to jump by leaps and bounds overnight and there will therefore be a certain dependency on conventional energy sources such as coal for the foreseeable future. And so in this transition phase (apart from self-generators with solar systems) an electric vehicle will in most cases not be climate neutral (it should be noted, however, that the situation should relax significantly in urban conurbations with high traffic and smog). In addition to the climate debate that is already taking place, this topic will still be fueled by electromobility and therefore these are two complementary and mutually reinforcing dynamics: ideally, this will make a significant contribution to the energy transition and climate change, and the number of electric vehicles sold will steadily increase after growing.

Positive "primary and secondary effects":

Electromobility will make a key contribution to changing mobility awareness. For this reason, it should not only be viewed in isolation, but as part of a holistic paradigm shift, similar to our argument above regarding the emerging energy transition. Now what do we mean by that? For the foreseeable future, electric vehicles will have a (more or less) limited range compared to conventional combustion engines.

It seems at least conceivable (and to be welcomed!) That this "natural shortage" is reflected in a change in driving behavior, in which consumers use the vehicle more consciously in contrast to everyday use where the car is almost always "on" and unrestricted at all times is available as long as the nearest petrol station is 5-10 minutes away.

In the long term, this could make a significant contribution to relieving the traffic volume in already chronically congested metropolitan areas. Ideally, this changed driving behavior will persist even when the range of electric vehicles and combustion engines will be almost identical (which, in our view, is already apparent if one extrapolates the power curve of the past approx. 10 years). The success of innovative mobility services such as ride / car sharing also depends crucially on electromobility, and vice versa: it is already becoming apparent that ride / car sharing will be the primary "use case" for electric vehicles, due to the fact that it is there for the OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturer, i.e. automobile manufacturers) achievable economies of scale, which will be necessary to reduce cost structure etc. to a similar level to that of conventional combustion engines.

This means that there is a further impetus for environmentally conscious consumers (also for those who may shy away from the initial investment in their first own electric vehicle) to make greater use of offers from the popular ride / car sharing platforms in the future. Also not to be neglected are those consumers who associate this with a certain "experience factor" and do not act primarily for environmental or emission reasons: if the latest electric car is only an "app click" or five minutes away on foot, this can cause skepticism and sustainably reduce inhibitions against this new technology with a theoretically broad consumer and buyer class.

This could result in increased acceptance of both electromobility and innovative mobility services in the “sharing economy” (read: ride / car sharing), and the latter could also have a significant impact on a sustainable mobility strategy of the 21st century: our vehicle remains on average Unused more than 90% of the time, the degree of utilization of less than 10% in Western Europe along the entire fleet is considered. It is not difficult to question the use of the resources tied up (be it in terms of capital or public space) as critical. A broad rethink of the offerings of ride / car sharing can provide valuable remedies here and also lead to significantly greater resource efficiency, in addition to the positive effects for electromobility.

Progress Not Perfection

Critical voices often refer to limited lithium reserves, a questionable ecological balance when viewed holistically (i.e. including today's energy mix with nuclear and coal power) and the high weight gain of vehicles due to bulky EV batteries.

electric mobility

Image source & copyright by Volkswagen

Some of these concerns are based on valid arguments, undoubtedly, but we should not ignore one thing: we are only at the beginning of a (r) evolution of this technology that is likely to span several decades, and it can therefore be strongly assumed that we will in the coming decades will see a number of technological quantum leaps to find meaningful and effective answers to the current challenges. Analogous to the history of the development of internal combustion engines and other technologies. It is true that lithium is a limited raw material: but do we actually know how high the actual reserves / resources are (editor's note: lithium can also be obtained from sea water, for example) or whether the battery technology of tomorrow is actually dependent on lithium?

However, it would also be conceivable that the fuel cell will become a primary energy supplier from a certain point in time with an improved range, less weight gain and completely without lithium. It is also true that the share of renewable energies has not yet reached the desired level and that the ecological balance of an electric vehicle is not much better from a holistic point of view than with conventional combustion engines. However, we are only at the beginning of the energy turnaround and the move away from conventional or fossil fuels (at least in many developed countries) has long been decided: the eco-balance of electric vehicles in XNUMX years, for example, with a greater use of renewable energies, will be far be improved compared to the status quo.

No scalable technology

Lithium (together with rare earths) will rapidly gain in importance with the increasing sales of electric vehicles. As of today, almost all leading battery technologies and platforms are based on this raw material. For the enthusiasts and advocates of a comprehensive scaling of EVs, however, the knowledge that the lithium is also a finite and therefore limited raw material does not seem to have arrived here yet.

For this reason, the question arises for us how finite lithium actually is and whether available reserves or resources are actually sufficient to guarantee a 5% shift from burners to EVs. We are extremely skeptical on this point: between EV and 10-160 kg of lithium are likely to be required per EV, this estimate is fed from the approximately 5 g of lithium per kWh required in an EV. It should be noted that the underlying estimates sometimes diverge considerably, but in our view a range of 10-XNUMXkg lithium per EV vehicle seems realistic and useful and at the same time corresponds to common EV models that are already available.

With global automotive sales of around 100 million per year in the future (extrapolated from the current sales volume of approx. 80 million units in 2018 and 2019 and taking into account the constantly growing middle class in emerging countries such as China and India as well as wide areas Parts of Southeast Asia). This would mean that the annual lithium requirement for new car production would amount to up to 1 million tons. According to current estimates, the current lithium reserves (known and theoretically exploitable resources) amount to approximately 15 million tons (65 million tons). Current reserves would therefore be able to serve the needs of the automotive industry for around 15 years and this without taking into account the demand from other branches of industry such as batteries for smartphones and other energy storage devices as well as ceramics etc.

Outdated technology

Electromobility is by no means a revolutionary technological achievement of the 21st century, quite contrary to the currently widespread fallacy in society and the media on both sides of the Atlantic (and in the Far East!).

On the contrary: if you abstract from the radiant future-esque image of Tesla & Co (which have undoubtedly made the topic of electromobility en vogue for their own kind) and soberly look at technological aspects, you realize that the electric motor is a relatively dusty type of motor from the 19/20. Century before it was replaced by today's internal combustion engine.

How did this development come about? why couldn't the electric motor prevail against the combustion engine about 100 years ago and why should it be different today? Well, the electric motor is in no way inferior in all aspects, for example if you look at acceleration and general performance (anyone who has already had the pleasure of driving an electric car today will probably agree with us at this point). The problem of lack of range has remained, even if enormous progress has already been made in this aspect due to improved battery technology.

Cars are not smartphones

The renaissance of electric vehicles correlates somewhat with the rapidly growing adaptation of smartphones over the past 10 years. Economies of scale and the constant further development of smartphones have undoubtedly led to significantly high-performance performance data for technical components such as batteries, semiconductor components (chips) and the software anchored on them (associated with improved security features such as firewalls which entire systems are nowadays much more robust and less vulnerable to external influences such as spyware and malware).

It seems that this technological quantum leap has had a considerable impact on the imagination of some developers, in that vehicles of the future are more or less understood as oversized smartphones. To anticipate one thing: we, too, are absolutely convinced that the vehicle of tomorrow will (and must!) Be increasingly networked and digitized with a growing proportion of semiconductor components and software within the value chains to make the user experience future-proof ,

So there are the so-called spill-over effects with smartphones. It is questionable from ours whether “moving batteries” really belong and our skepticism prevails here: the empty weight of a typical mid-range car is around 1,5 tons, including the battery (battery) around 2,0 tons. So there is a considerable increase in weight: driving around with a 500kg battery would roughly mean dragging your own oil refinery with combustion engines

Zero-sum game shift of climate-damaging factors

When viewed in isolation, electric vehicles undoubtedly have a significantly improved CO2 balance compared to conventional combustion engines; However, this is only possible as long as the CO2 balance is viewed in isolation for the vehicle and the value chain is not included in the calculation as a whole.

To call combustion engines climate-efficient would be nonsense, and this should not be our concern at this point. As of today, however, this is also not electric mobility: where is the lithium required for the batteries obtained, for example, and under what circumstances, where does the electricity from the socket inevitably come from for the operation of (future) enormous fleets of electric vehicles; for the foreseeable future and as long as renewable energies are not yet in operation on a global scale, this additional energy requirement will inevitably have to be covered by nuclear and coal power. We do not need to discuss the eco-balance of coal-fired power plants here.