Electric vehicle mythbuster

We answer common myths about electric buses and coaches.


“Electric vehicles are more polluting than diesel and petrol because of the batteries”

Embedded carbon emissions in new, unused EVs are, indeed, higher than in ICE vehicles, but that changes very quickly. In a year, an electric bus will reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 70% (46 tonnes) and, within at most three years, a diesel will overtake the embedded emissions in an EV. How quickly that happens depends on how the electricity which fuels the EV is created. The UK’s off-peak generation (when battery buses are charged) is more than 50% renewables currently.

Life-cycle analysis shows that battery buses achieve a 50% well-to-wheel greenhouse gas saving compared to a conventional Euro VI diesel over the UK Bus Cycle.


“Vehicle batteries cannot be recycled”

Yes, they can. The main issue with recycling lithium ion vehicle batteries is that there are not many scrap vehicle batteries around to recycle yet, and the recycling process is dependent on volume. Bus batteries not only last upwards of eight years but, after their first life, are often repurposed as static batteries for housing and factories (and, indeed, for charging electric buses), where they will last another eight years or more.


“Electric vehicles are prone to catching fire”

There IS an issue with vehicle batteries catching fire, but it’s not the frequency with which it happens. Some battery chemistries – and in particular Lithium Nickel Manganese Cobalt (NMC) batteries – can create fierce fires, or ‘thermal runaway,’ when they are damaged or treated incorrectly, the fire being hard to extinguish and producing a volume of potentially harmful smoke.

However, pro-rata, electric vehicles are at least ten times less likely to catch fire than petrol or diesel vehicles. At the moment, some bus batteries are of the NMC type but other manufacturers are now using Lithium Ferrous Phosphate batteries, which will cut this risk still further.


“Battery coaches don’t have enough range”

For bus work, the case is already proven, with the latest battery buses having an efficiency of 0.67 kWh per km, and a range of more than 200 miles. The reality of most coach operations is that at least 50% of daily hires are well within the 180 miles base-to-base, real-world range of current electric coaches. It is true that electric coaches cannot be used for every duty, like diesels, but then some diesel coaches will be inappropriate for some services, depending on configuration. Those who operate electric coaches simply assign them to suitable work, as they do with other vehicle types. An anomaly of electric vehicles is that they are proportionately more economical in urban, stop-start service than their diesel equivalent, largely because they recover energy when slowing down.


“The more electronics used, the less reliable vehicles are”

In modern diesel vehicles, there are scores of sensors installed throughout the engine, gearbox and driveline to monitor and adjust inputs; some safety related but many tackle emissions and eke out fuel efficiency. In this respect, electric vehicles are similar except that far fewer of the sensors have to interpret mechanical, liquid and gas performance, and the management of the driveline is contained within an on-board, solid-state computer. The computer, like any other, can be rebooted and can be adjusted, usually ‘over the air’ without physical intervention.

Where electric vehicles score heavily is with the reduction in moving parts, from some 2,500-plus to as few as 20, if we set aside the axle and suspension and friction brake components which are common to both kinds of vehicle. The friction brakes of an electric vehicle wear extremely slowly, as much more of the ‘braking’ is supplied by the regeneration cycle.


“To make the batteries, children in the Congo are forced to mine the metals”

Many different metals are used in vehicle batteries, and only one – cobalt – is implicated in child labour, and in a minority of open-cast mines.

Some manufacturers are moving away from the NMC battery, which uses cobalt, to other chemistries, partly to avoid this conflict but also because other battery chemistries are either cheaper or more suitable for vehicle batteries. Others have revised sourcing to more sophisticated mines. Additionally, new types of battery will soon be in production which are more durable and efficient than the Lithium ion batteries we now use.

Lithium production is mainly via ancient saltwater deposits, which are flushed out and refined. There are concerns about the volume of waste produced and the amount of water used, but unlike mining and drilling for fossil fuels, the product made with lithium is durable and can be recovered with recycling. Mining for fossil fuels and oil drilling are, of course, also known for the long-lasting environmental problems they cause, not least of which is climate change.


“Electric vehicles are too expensive”

Electric vehicles are substantially more expensive than diesel vehicles to purchase but the running cost is much lower.

Not only is the fuel – electricity – potentially much cheaper than diesel per mile, but so are servicing costs, as there are no engine and gearbox lubrication oils and filters to replace (and dispose of) regularly and, with so few moving parts, much lower risk of mechanical failure. Over the lifetime of an electric vehicle, the savings are very significant, not only in terms of materials but labour costs and, of course, the cost of breakdowns. Typically, maintenance cost is 50% of that of a diesel bus.

In time, we can expect urban planners to favour electric vehicles over diesel vehicles, so there is every likelihood that the cost of entering cities and towns which have road charging may be lower for electric vehicles.


“The public doesn’t care whether we have electric vehicles”

It may be true that a minority of the public have sufficient concern about the environment to favour electric vehicles, but likely that most can tell the difference.

Battery electric buses are very quiet and feature an almost complete lack of the vibration we associate with diesel engines. This makes them a more pleasant travelling environment. So although many passengers will not climb aboard to ‘save the planet’ they will prefer electric buses.

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