Karol Abrasowicz-Madej: Sustainable motoring is more than just switching to an electric vehicle


Since the Government’s preliminary roll-out of the Clean Car Standard, there has been much debate around the policy and the switch to electric vehicles.

Elsewhere in the world, the discussion has moved past the ‘ifs’.The UK plans to do away with combustion vehicles by 2030 and the EU has proposed to ban sales of combustion engines by 2035.

The simple truth is that cars, utes and tractors of the future will all be electrified and the Clean Car Standard here in New Zealand is a positive step encouraging more people to embrace electrified mobility.

The same enthusiasm needs to be invested into policies to decarbonising public transport and to reinvigorate our public rail system.

But are we doing enough by simply switching to an electric car?

In New Zealand, that is not necessarily the case.At present we generate a substantial amount of our electricity using renewable sources; however, there has been growing concern about the increased amount of imported coal to power our grid.

More investment must be made to increase the capacity of our renewable energy sources which will be hard pressed to meet the added demand as more of us switch to electric vehicles.Electric car emissions in the user phase of the vehicle begins at the power plant.

But even before we plug in and charge, we need to consider the emissions in the production of any electric vehicle: Raw materials like lithium and cobalt, essential components for all battery-powered vehicles, are dug up from deep within the Earth before being shipped long distances to high volume battery factories.

These factories process and refine the raw materials and then ship them off to battery production plants that place them into the high-density battery packs.

The completed battery packs then find themselves in transit again – now on to final assembly locations, where they find homes in shiny new electric vehicles.

The increased requirement for refinement of raw materials, as well as the extended supply chains associated with EVs has led some studies to suggest that as much as 46 per cent of an electric vehicle’s CO2 emissions are produced before the car has rotated a single wheel.

So, in pursuit of truly sustainable motoring, we need to consider the complete ‘life cycle emissions’ of zero and low emission vehicles.

Many manufacturers have proactively pledged to reduce life cycle emissions even as they switch to producing more electrified products.

For our group, we are pursuing targets to produce the greenest electric vehicle fleet by implementing a plan to be carbon neutral by 2050.

These targets include 80 per cent CO2 emissions in the production phase, 40 per cent during the user phase and 20 per cent in the supply chain.The overall footprint of any new vehicle must be considered from an end-to-end perspective.

More companies are extending the approach with strict environmental and human rights requirements built into all supplier contracts; we have also banded together with other like-minded sustainable companies and have pledged not to extract raw materials at the cost of our oceans with deep-sea mining.

But even if sustainability during production is achieved, what happens at the end of the life of an electric vehicle?

Today, up to 95 per cent of an old BMW i3 can be recycled because of advanced designs using a unique carbon fibre core.

Some of our tyres, for example, are now be made from a sustainable material called Rayon that reduces reliance on non-biodegradable synthetic polymers. Our interior carpets are made from recycled fishing nets. Scrap carbon fibre bits are re-used in new body shells, pressed, and primed to re-form the strong and rigid material.

We’ve shown that the ecosystem of material use can be closed, and built a path for more companies to choose a ‘secondary first’ approach.

The battery pack in current models is set up to experience a second life as a stationary energy storage system.

Since renewable energy sources such as solar and wind are inconsistent, it’s an advantage for excess power to be stored in these stations to feed additional power back into the grid when natural power generation falls short of requirements.

Afterwards, the lithium content in the battery pack can be recycled up to 96 per cent – or almost completely re-usable,into a new battery pack for future use.

Truly sustainable motoring is more than just switching to an electric vehicle and motorists should be demanding end-to-end sustainability from their preferred brand.

– Karol Abrasowicz-Madej is the chief executive of BMW Group New Zealand.

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