Electric cars really are 'silent killers': Pedestrians are TWICE as likely to be hit by battery-powered vehicles than petrol or diesel ones, study finds

Dr Florian Knobloch, a Fellow at the University of Cambridge’s Centre for Environment, Energy and Natural Resource Governance, said Rowan Atkinson’s assumptions about electric cars are ‘wrong’ and ‘questionable from a science perspective’. 

Dr Knobloch broke down Atkinson’s essay for the Guardian into four ‘central arguments’ – and debunked three of them:

1. Atkinson implies that the life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions (including all production emissions) from electric cars are higher than those from petrol and diesel cars

Dr Knobloch says:  

‘Wrong. Fears that electric cars could actually increase carbon emissions are unfounded in almost all parts of the world, as our research shows (published in Nature Sustainability). 

‘Already under current conditions, producing and driving an electric car is better for the climate than conventional petrol cars in 95% of the world.

‘The only exceptions are places like Poland, where electricity generation is still mostly based on coal. 

‘In a few years, even inefficient electric cars will be less emission-intensive than most new petrol cars in most countries, as electricity generation is expected to be less carbon-intensive than today. 

‘The answer is clear: to reduce carbon emissions, we should choose electric cars over fossil-fuel alternatives. In other words, the idea that electric vehicles could increase emissions is essentially a myth.’ 

2. EVs are worse for the climate than gas cars because of the environmental impact of their batteries

Dr Knobloch says: 

‘Wrong. While it is true that the manufacturing of electric cars leads to more emissions than manufacturing a petrol or diesel car, electric cars are just much more efficient to run. 

‘Electric motors are simply better at capturing the energy in the battery and using it to turn the wheels. 

‘Almost all of the energy in the battery of an EV goes to making the car move, while only 16 per cent of the energy contained in the gas tank of an average car powers that car forward. The majority of energy is lost through heat. 

‘As a result, you get far more kilometres per unit of energy in an EV than you do in a regular car. 

‘Over their lifetime, higher initial production emissions are thus quickly outweighed by much lower operation emissions.’

3. Hydrogen or synthetic fuels should be used instead of electric vehicles

Dr Knobloch says: 

‘Wrong. First, it is important to understand that hydrogen and synthetic fuels are either made from fossil fuels or from electricity.

‘When produced with fossil fuels, hydrogen and synthetic would not decrease, but increase emissions. When produced from electricity (so called ‘green hydrogen’), much of the energy is lost in the conversion process. 

‘It is thus much more efficient to directly use the electricity for powering a car, instead of first transforming it into hydrogen first and then use the hydrogen to power the same vehicle. 

‘Synthetic fuels are even more inefficient, since the hydrogen needs to be transformed into a liquid fuel, which again requires a lot of energy. 

‘The synthetic fuel is then burned in a conventional combustion engine, which is a very inefficient process in the first place. 

‘As a result, hydrogen and synthetic fuels will usually lead to much higher energy use and emissions, compared to battery electric vehicles.’

4. We should pay more attention to the production emissions of cars

Dr Knobloch says: 

‘Atkinson is certainly right to point out the high emissions which come along with car manufacturing. 

‘When one drives very little, continuing to drive an existing car is thus often the more sustainable solution. 

‘More generally, electrification of transport is not a silver bullet: We also need to reduce the number of cars per se, and encourage the use of cycling and public transport wherever it is possible.’ 


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