Electric aircrafts, true and fake news

electric plane Alice
electric plane Alice

While electric aircraft and hybrid aircraft are likely to gain prominence, especially in the next few years to decades, let’s examine their impact on the environment and on electricity consumption.

Economic and environmental issues

  • The best way to stem the rise in oil prices is to invest in the energy transition, the sooner the better, before a much too expensive oil suffocates our economies.
  • The economic and social cost of the pollution caused by cars and fuel-powered aircraft is enormous: not only 48,000 deaths per year from diesel exhaust in France alone, but also hundreds of thousands of cancers, cardiovascular and pulmonary diseases due to the exhaust gas.
  • We do not want to leave our children a polluted world, with a totally disrupted climate, with droughts, floods, fires, extinction of animal species, tropical diseases in Europe.

The electric car or plane is already very competitive, requiring almost no maintenance and traveling 100 km with little electricity. What electricity to feed them? In Spain and Portugal, 45% of the electricity is produced by renewables … An electric motor transforms in movement 85% of the energy, a heat engine, 30% in movement, 70% in heat … no autociternes to transport electricity … If we produced electricity for a car or electric airplane with oil, for example, we would use less oil than driving with a gasoline engine…

A look at conventional wisdom about electric motors in general, no matter if they have to equip cars or planes

On the fuel

An electric vehicle costs less than 2 euros per 100 kilometers (against 6.16 euros for a diesel model and 7.44 euros for a gasoline). The car or electric airplane is therefore much cheaper to use than a thermal model, the prices of fossil fuels fluctuating continuously. And that does not count the savings on maintenance.

If everyone shifts to electric cars or planes, we’ll need to build new nuclear power plants: FALSE! Charging an electric vehicle at home requires the same power as a water heater. Contrary to popular belief, the development of electric fuel cars and aircraft will not require new nuclear reactors. Today, considering the kilometers traveled each day, charging your electric vehicle at home represents the same power demand and consumption as a water heater. Thus, the energy efficiency of vehicles, the smart management of charging stations and user practices, such as night charging, will not increase the capacity of electricity generation, even with 15.6 million electrified vehicles expected in 2035. At this time, their consumption is estimated between 7 and 34 TWh. Even in the high trajectory, this represents a maximum of 7% of the annual energy production.Finally, as we all already do, staggering the recharge of electrical devices at off-peak times and limiting their use during demand peaks between 6 pm and 8 pm makes it possible to moderate the power demands on the network. We will do the same for charging electric fuel cars and aircraft, which is why smart charging is essential. The electric vehicle accompanies the deployment of renewable energies and helps to balance the network.

First, many charging networks today provide renewable electricity. Moreover, by driving the recharge, the vehicle or electric airplane can allow the use of renewable energy when production is surplus at certain times of the day, such as at night. It is therefore already involved in improving the economic model of renewable electricity. On the other hand, the on-board battery of vehicles and aircraft will also be able to store energy and restore it to the mains at key moments of the day in the event of a peak in production or demand. Numerous tests are in progress all over Europe. Finally, when batteries are no longer usable in mobility, they find a second life in the field of energy storage. They can thus serve as buffer storage for positive energy buildings or for self-consumption.

The electric vehicle represents a fantastic opportunity to participate in the development of renewable energy, offering a unique storage capacity for intermittent energy such as solar and wind.

There will not be enough rare earth for all cars and electric fuel aircraft: FALSE! Alternatives to their use already exist. There are 17 mineral materials that respond to the name of “rare earths”. It is interesting to note that, despite this name, they are not particularly rare. They have been used since the 1960s for the manufacture of many everyday products such as LED bulbs, vacuum cleaners or computer screens. Globally, 26% of rare earth production is for thermal vehicles, refining oil or making catalytic converters for diesel models.In electric vehicles or planes, rare earths are used for the manufacture of crankcases and magnets fitted to traction motors, in which they can represent up to 30% of the components. However, they are not present in lithium-ion batteries. Note that it is already possible to do without. Several technologies have been developed by manufacturers of electric vehicles to easily replace them.

The car or electric plane is too dependent on cobalt: TRUE

There are several solutions. The extraction of cobalt is a geopolitical challenge strong, since 50% World reserves are in the Democratic Republic of Congo. There are, however, many mines around the world such as Australia, Canada or Russia. Europe also has significant potential with more than 230 mines listed, many of which are already in operation as in Finland. supply could be stretched as early as 2025, with demand twice as much as production. It is therefore important to find alternatives today, working on three axes: reduce or eliminate the cobalt content as many manufacturers already do, advance on replacement metals such as nickel, more abundant on Earth, and anticipate battery recycling.

And what about batteries? This will be non-recovered waste: FALSE! The recycling sector will help to integrate batteries in the circular economy. While the European Union requires since 2006 the recycling of 50% of lithium battery components, the recycling sector is now able to recycle more than 80%. The companies of the sector are preparing now to welcome the first batteries from 2025. In addition, industry and research are working today to develop techniques to recycle them to infinity, ensuring independence from producer countries, and to include the battery sector in the circular economy. To do this, the right incentives must be put in place before this deadline.

The electric vehicle pollutes more than its thermal equivalent: FALSE! The more an electric vehicle rolls, the better its carbon footprint. CO2 production is concentrated during the manufacturing phase of the electric vehicle and on the production of electricity. Unlike its thermal equivalent, it does not emit CO2 during use. In other words, the more an electric vehicle rolls, the better its carbon footprint compared to its thermal equivalent. Moreover, according to Transport & Environment’s “wheel to wheel” analysis, even in the case of a production of Highly carbon-intensive electricity, as in Poland, the electric vehicle emits 25% less CO2 than its thermal equivalent emitting 120 gCO2 / km on average. In the end, over its entire lifetime, a car or electric airplane rolling in France has an impact on the environment 2 to 3 times lower than that of a thermal model. In France, airborne particles and more generally air pollution are responsible for the premature death of 48 000 people each year and cost between 2 and 3 billions euros per year in health expenditure, of which nearly one billion is directly borne by the health care system.

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