German scientists are increasingly assuming that electric mobility will prevail in Germany and that sticking to the combustion engine with the help of e-fuels, which are currently being championed primarily by Federal Transport Minister Volker Wissing (FDP), does not make sense. “The range of electric cars is absolutely practical today and does not pose any restrictions in everyday life,” explained Martin Doppelbauer, professor for hybrid electric vehicles at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), in a survey by the Science Media Center (SMC).
Range anxiety and average consumption
According to Doppelbauer, typical city cars with a capacity of between 50 and 60 kilowatt hours (kWH) can cover up to 250 kilometers in winter with one charge. Common family cars with capacities of around 70 to 90 kWh are good for up to 350 kilometers in winter and significantly more in summer. The fear of range, which has been at the forefront of the debate for years, is likely to have ended in this way. At the same time, the scientist “expressly welcomes the EU’s initiative to no longer allow cars with combustion engines from 2035”.
The real average consumption of cars has been in Germany for more than ten years constant at around seven to eight liters per 100 kilometers, Doppelbauer justifies his line. Technological developments such as hybrid drives “obviously did not change anything anymore”. The only mass-market alternative to the combustion engine is therefore battery-electric vehicles, “of which well over ten million are now on the road worldwide”.
E-fuels with a poor CO₂ balance
According to Doppelbauer, e-fuels, which are produced using electricity from water and carbon dioxide using a lot of energy, “remain far too expensive in the long term due to the enormous production effort”. They could not be provided for the efficient operation of many millions of vehicles. The enormous manufacturing effort also causes the “big CO₂ backpack of e-fuels”, which is why they always have a significantly worse environmental balance than electric cars: “There can be no question of zero emissions here, even in the overall balance”. In addition, there would be local emissions in the cities, which would not be reduced with synthetic fuels.
Current polls from about Deloittethe technical academy Acatech or the German automobile trust suggest that private car buyers are still rather reserved about e-cars, despite the widely recognized potential. The main criticisms raised by those surveyed were that battery-powered vehicles were too expensive and charging was too cumbersome. There are also doubts about the environmental friendliness of e-mobility.
High acquisition costs – loading problems
In principle, there is now an offer for every user “from a technical point of view that, together with ultra-fast charging technology, solves the range problems,” counters Dirk Uwe Sauer, Professor of Electrochemical Energy Conversion and Storage System Technology at RWTH Aachen University. The problem is the price of the vehicles, he admits. There is still no large range in the compact and middle class with long ranges that is comparable to conventional cars, taking into account the subsidy. However, it is questionable how many of the vehicles in these classes are driven over long distances. Here, renting a car with a longer range for one or two uses a year could be quite attractive.
Like Doppelbauer, Sauer expects the range to increase in the coming years: he thinks 800 kilometers with a 100 kWh battery is quite possible by the end of the decade. According to him, manufacturers should primarily focus on “energy efficiency at all levels” and less on expanding battery capacity that does not conserve resources. The 350 kW charging technology is often used in luxury vehicles. The energy for a range of around 100 kilometers is recharged in around three minutes. Since batteries cannot be fully charged at this speed, this would mean a reloading stop of 10 minutes approximately every 300 kilometers. With higher efficiency, the recharging time for 100 kilometers is reduced to perhaps two minutes with the same charging capacity. This does not represent “a major restriction on mobility compared to the known combustion engines”.
When it comes to expanding the charging station network, politics and business acted “half-heartedly”, criticizes Sauer. It must “finally be made clear that electric vehicles are coming and that new, very powerful connections must be laid on the motorways in particular”, which will then also be geared towards trucks. Legally, the framework conditions should be created for tenants in particular so that “in the area of residential development charging points are possible across the board”.
“The charging infrastructure available in Germany is currently sufficient for the electric vehicles registered today,” says Thorsten Koska, co-head of the research area Mobility and Transport Policy at the Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy. However, in order to reach the fleet target of 15 million electric vehicles by 2030, a significantly accelerated expansion is necessary. He also focuses on the private sector: “Charging at home or at work is much cheaper and can make electromobility more attractive”. In addition, synergies with self-generated photovoltaic electricity can be realized here.
Profitable on short trips
Jens Tübke, Head of Applied Electrochemistry at the Fraunhofer Institute for Chemical Technology, emphasizes that more and more e-cars for short distances and city trips with smaller batteries and slightly shorter ranges are coming onto the market at significantly lower prices. These serve a segment “in which electromobility pays for itself very quickly”. This also saves valuable material resources in battery manufacturing and reduces vehicle weight.
Hinrich Helms, head of e-mobility at the Heidelberg Institute for Energy and Environmental Research (ifeu), gives the all-clear on the use of resources: An increasing number of new registrations of electric cars is leading to higher demand for copper, nickel, cobalt and lithium in particular. However, several studies have shown that these raw materials are “in principle also available in sufficient quantities for global growth in electromobility”. Global deposits significantly exceeded forecast demand.