Are electrically powered vehicles actually more environmentally friendly than vehicles with a combustion engine?
A question that has been extensively discussed. In search of a conclusive answer, MBtech compared the three drive types: electric, plug-in hybrid (premium-grade gasoline) and diesel engine. Here, the engineering and consulting service provider also reviewed its strategy for supporting vehicle manufacturers and suppliers in the development of electric vehicles of the next generation. MBtech is primarily looking to gain insights into how the long-term development of electric vehicles will pan out in
the future. There will be special emphasis placed here on energy consumption and climate compatibility. The race to identify the remaining optimization potential is already taking place.
In order to find a realistic answer to these questions, vehicles that are largely identical in everything but drive type needed to be found for the comparison. A suitable model series from a manufacturer was thus required, which met the latest technical standards, however enabled conclusions to be drawn with vehicles from other manufacturers. The current model series from VW Golf met these criteria. Furthermore, the Golf is representative of vehicles in the compact car category. The purely electric e-Golf, the plug-in hybrid Golf GTE with gasoline engine and the classic diesel Golf VII were the vehicles compared.
1) The manufacturing conclusion: Consideration
given to the various energy requirements when
manufacturing the vehicles and the corresponding
CO2 emissions during production.
2) Two conclusions found in relation to vehicle use. On the one hand, the efficiency and climate friendliness of providing electricity at the charging columns and fuel at the filling pumps was investigated. Energy consumption and CO2 emissions in vehicle operation according to NEDC (New European Driving Cycle) will also be determined.
3) The cost/benefit analysis is another crucial factor for vehicle buyers. Here, values such as vehicle performance, driving emissions, range and
energy consumption also play an important role.
During the first phase, when comparing the amount of energy required to manufacture the vehicles and how much CO2 is produced, the energy required for the extraction of raw materials, the transport of components and for assembly was observed. The results for electric and hybrid vehicles trailed those of the diesel vehicle here.
The poor performance was largely due to the high amounts of energy required to manufacture the batteries. Lithium-ion batteries comprise mainly lithium and granite, which are mined in South America and Asia. The storage media are produced in China, however. As higher energy consumption goes hand-in-hand with higher CO2 emissions, alone the transport of the battery components to the manufacturing plants makes a significant contribution. This has an effect on both the purely electric vehicles and the hybrid versions, which include batteries in addition to the combustion engine.
In relation to the use of energy during manufacture, the study made the following assumptions (per 100 km): 29.8 kWh for the e-Golf, 26.5 kWh for the Golf GTE and 19.1 kWh for the Golf VII. The CO2 emissions add up to 56.0 g/km in the manufacture of the e-Golf and to 50.5 g/km for the plug-in hybrid vehicle. With 33.5 g/km, the diesel vehicle also came out on top here.
The second phase assessed the production of electricity and fuel, as well as their consumption. This involves efficiency rates, environmental compatibility and the energy required for vehicle operation, as well as the resulting CO2 values.The efficiency rate of electricity, at an average of 40% per kWh (the mix of electricity from the various production methods varies here, widely for the CO2 values) compared to 89.5% per liter of diesel and 82.0% per liter of premium-grade gasoline, is the lowest. The CO2 contamination when generating electricity is 540.3 g CO2 per kWh generated. One liter of diesel generates 541g CO2 during production, while one liter of gasoline is the most environmentally friendly with a total of 340 g CO2. There is thus little difference between the CO2 values when it comes to the production of electricity and diesel.
In order to be able to make an assessment concerning environmental friendliness, consumption in the vehicle also needs to be considered – once again energy input and emission values, both on the standard basis of NEDC. The e-Golf manages, at 100 km and taking into consideration the recovery of energy
(recuperation), 12.6 kWH. And that with zero emissions. The Golf VII consumes 3.9 liters of diesel on the same stretch, which corresponds to 38.9 kWh and generates an emission value of 104.1 g CO2 per km. Over the same distance, the Golf GTE consumes 1.6 liters of premium-grade gasoline. This corresponds to 26.3 kWh, with 36.6 g CO2 per km.
Accordingly, the electric vehicle cruises past the premium-grade gasoline and diesel vehicles in phase two. Both the low efficiency rate and high emission value in the production of energy are put into perspective again by the low consumption and zero emissions during vehicle operation.
It is to be expected that this result, in view of the energy revolution and renewable energies with their higher efficiency and lower emissions, can be considerably improved upon in favor of electrically powered vehicles.
Summing up balance sheet values in the production of electricity and fuels, as well as use of the vehicle over a life cycle of 150,000 kilometers and more, the electric vehicle is the first to reach the finish line in the race for energy efficiency, followed closely behind by the diesel. The plug-in hybrid, with its comparably poor energy balance, comes in last. Plug-in hybrid vehicles are at a disadvantage in that, in addition to the production and consumption of fuel, components from both drive systems are used. Improvements are primarily expected to be made to the energy balance of the diesel vehicle in the coming decades, at an extremely detailed level. At the same time, it can be assumed that the energy balance of purely electric vehicles will continue to improve with the generation of electricity at a greater rate of efficiency. It will be exciting to see which of the developments finds its feet first and where the plug-in-hybrid will fit in.
The cost/benefit analysis in the third phase looks at the extent to which the vehicle types are currently meeting the most important customer requirements. The diesel Golf takes the top spot here, followed by the plug-in hybrid and only then the e-vehicle. How did this come about? There are various aspects to be considered here, such as a low range, charging time and available charging infrastructure, as well as vehicle performance. These points are currently seen as restrictions by
the consumer. The e-Golf only impresses the customer here when it comes to consumption. It is also worth mentioning that the plug-in hybrid has settled firmly in the middle here, despite poor results in manufacturing and top marks in engine
performance. It initially appears to be a good option for introducing consumers to electromobility over the course of the developments described above and to provide manufacturers, suppliers and providers with time to develop competitive technologies and implement large-scale infrastructural measures. It can be assumed that electric vehicles will be capable of meeting customer requirements in the future, despite additional charges, similar to the extent of conventional vehicles today.
A clear winner in the race for energy efficiency has become apparent during this study: the electric vehicle represents the future of mobility thanks to its fewer emissions and efficient consumption. The electrification of urban transport has long started and is making strides the world over. Vehicle manufacturers need to come up with
electric versions for other vehicle series, and quickly too, and to bring these to market.
Here in Germany, we need to overcome the infrastructural hurdles in order to provide emobility with greater reach, such as with sufficient charging options – crucial aspects for ensuring the success of e-mobility among consumers. This is a turbulent market and has plenty of potential to offer. Which is why new players are continuing the join the field, alongside the classic vehicle manufacturers.
New technologies are becoming marketable and require both engineers and consultants to think outside the box when it comes to vehicle development. The various divisions are working even closer together these days and the vehicle has long represented a complex overall system. Themes such as “Car Connectivity” strengthen this
development and increasingly connect vehicles to their environment.
There are many gaps to be filled here, and this is where MBtech comes in. As an engineering and consulting service provider, the company has taken up a position between vehicle manufacturers and suppliers. It is clear that further improvements to the classic combustion engine will be necessary in order to succeed at energy efficiency, which in turn is crucial for the continued development of plug-in hybrids. On the other hand, the results of the cost/benefit analysis confirm the development strategy employed by MBtech for e-mobility.
The development of new battery and charging technology, as well as reinterpreting the operating strategy for electric vehicles, will considerably improve what is now a relatively low utility value. Coordination of the individual components in the overall vehicle will optimize the system, as well as improve driving experience.
In this regard, battery development at MBtech will be further expanded. The service provider will be focusing on the specification of battery management in particular, as well as the approval for series production of batteries. Together with vehicle manufacturers and battery suppliers, there will be further efforts to maximize performance in
order to profit from the rapidly developing potential as soon as possible. Work will be carried out on technology involving, for example, the solid-state battery, which will bring considerable improvements to intrinsic safety and quickcharging capabilities, or the lithium-sulfur battery, which boasts an industrial availability of raw materials.
In addition to the battery as a core component, the operating strategy makes an important contribution toward acceptance of the hybrid or electric vehicle among consumers. This has a major influence on maximization of vehicle range. Without losing sight of the “fun factor” typically associated with electric vehicles, the comfort of
hybrid vehicles will be optimized in terms of range and consumption.
Before this is implemented in a prototype, various strategies will be simulated in a laboratory, such as the optimization of CO2 emissions. MBtech has developed its own simulation environment here, which is tailored to special applications in the various types of vehicle. Basic functions of the operating strategy will be examined in the process and applications created that are suitable for series production. This includes, for example, the point of changeover between electric and combustion engine, the recuperation behavior for energy recovery, load point shift for optimum use of the combustion engine in hybrid operation and the electric boost for improvement of longitudinal dynamic vehicle characteristics. On MBtech’s own test benches, the final optimization potential for daily use of the series-production vehicle is explored.
Making the most of the individual components is a basic requirement for the efficient operation of a vehicle. However, it does not always need to lead to the best result for the complex overall system. Crucial for the acceptance of the buyer is the harmonious interaction of the individual components and modules. This task lies in the hands of the system engineers, who search for multidisciplinary solutions and coordinate interdisciplinary teams. Working across all systems brings with it a change
to the collaborative model of the classically organized development areas. There has been a shift in focus when it comes to the division of competencies. Where combustion and emission experts were once asked, it is now the system engineers, in addition to the electrical engineers, who are required to step up. Beyond the fields of development, the organizational landscape in the automotive industry is changing rapidly.
An increasing consolidation of value is now expected from the development service providers. OEMs are completely reorganizing themselves, in the process counting on swarm organizations. The engineering and consulting service providers need to react flexibly here and to offer the complete package, from concept to series production, in the development of both traditional combustion and e-mobility. MBtech, with all that it offers, covers the entire development process of climatefriendly vehicles and is perfectly positioned, both in terms of technology and organization, to start shaping the mobility of the future today.
Dr. Christoph Falk-Gierlinger
MBtech Group GmbH & Co. KGaA
Program Director Alternative Drive Systems
Esslingen University of Applied Sciences
Faculty Energy Building Environment
MBtech Group GmbH & Co. KGaA
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MBtech Group GmbH & Co. KGaA is a globally active engineering and consultancy service provider for the mobility sector. In Europe, we are one of the leading providers in the automotive, railway transportation and aerospace industries. MBtech supports manufacturers and suppliers along the entire product development process – from the design to series production. MBtech, with its headquarters in Sindelfingen, employs a workforce of approximately 3,300. Since 2012, the company has been part of the AKKA Technologies SE network, which is based in Paris.