During our last discussion with energy and climate engineer and researcher, Placid Tchoffor Atongka, Ph.D., which you can read here, he argued that everyone has a responsibility to join the fight against climate change. His argument is that climate change could cause deaths globally.

In the second segment of the interview, he urges developing countries to urgently invest in the development of clean energy infrastructures, to generate adequate electricity to power their transportation sectors as well as other sectors of their economies.

Placid Tchoffor Atongka, PhD., raising serious concerns

This is because developed countries are moving very fast in the electrification of their transportation sectors to eliminate tailpipe emissions of Carbon dioxide, CO– thereby alleviating climate change. In essence, in a decade from now, only electric cars may be in the car market. Therefore it is Time therefore for developing nations to rethink their capacities to produce electricity. It is advantageous to run hybrid and Battery Electrical Vehicles, BEVs, argues our guest. Read on:

Thampers Media: Let us talk specifically about the emergence of electrical and hybrid cars. The automotive industry is fast changing. We are moving towards the production and use of fully electrified vehicles otherwise known as Battery Electrified Vehicles, BEVs. As an expert in the energy sector and a climate change advocate, how would you appreciate this development?

Placid Tchoffor Atongka, Ph.D.: It is very good news from the climate change perspective. In the Paris Agreement, it was stated that each country should work toward reducing gas emissions. One of the sectors that contribute tremendously to the emission of greenhouse gases is transportation. Cars with internal combustion engines running on gasoline and diesel emit a lot of carbon dioxide, CO2.

Volvo’s BEF x40. Photo: Volvo Cars

What can one do to prevent tailpipe emissions from cars? A brilliant option is electric cars because they do not have any tailpipe emissions of CO2. This does not mean that they do not emit CO2 in their life cycle. They may do, depending on where the energy comes from to power the electric car.

In an electric car, electrical energy is needed to power the car. The electricity needs to be generated somewhere. If it is generated from wind or from the sun, there is no emission of CO2. That is a real climate-neutral car. But if electricity is sourced from, let us say, burning coal, or some fossil material, then, although you do not have tailpipe emissions of CO2 from the car, you have emissions associated with where the energy to power the car comes from.

But generally, even if you combust the fossil fuel to generate the electricity that is needed to power the car, it is much easier to capture and store CO2 generated from the combustion of fossil fuels in a stationary power plant compared to a case of tailpipe emission of CO2 from the combustion of fossil fuels in mobile cars.

Key components of BEVs

It should also be mentioned here that there exist some cars that run on renewable fuels like biogas. Such cars are CO2 neutral because biogas is produced from a renewable source – biomass. Sweden for example is moving very fast on electrification not only for cars but also for industries. For example, the steel industry emits a lot of CO2. Electrification of the steel industry is under development to render it carbon neutral.

Thampers Media: Comparatively, is it cheaper to run an electric, diesel, petrol, or gasoline car, for those who might be interested to own one?

Placid Tchoffor Atongka, Ph.D.: Although there is a huge debate on which alternative is cheaper, there is one clear demarcation from a climate perspective. Unlike cars with internal combustion engines running on gasoline or diesel, electric cars do not have tailpipe emissions. If the electricity to power the electric car is produced from a renewable source such as wind, biomass, etc, the electric car is a climate-neutral car.

Tailpipe emission vehicles would soon be history

For the owner of the electric car, you see an immediate impact when paying the car’s tax. For the electric car, it is almost nothing but for the internal combustion engines running on gasoline or diesel, you spend a lot depending on how much CO2 your car emits. The difference in how cheaper it is to power your car will depend on electricity prices and the efficiency of your car’s electric motor compared to the price of diesel or gasoline and the efficiency of your car’s internal combustion engine.

When I talk about the efficiency of your car, I mean the distance that you can travel with your car with a certain quantity of energy (e.g., 1 kWh) in the form of electricity, gasoline, or diesel. Generally, electrical cars have higher efficiencies per unit of energy than internal combustion cars.

Overall, some studies have shown that electrical car owners tend to spend 60 percent less on energy to power their cars than owners of internal combustion engines on yearly basis. One could also argue that electric cars alleviate the dependence of local transportation sectors on foreign oil–which is often at the center of political conflicts.

Different Toyota electric cars. Photo: Electrive.com

Thampers Media: Between fully battery electric cars and internal combustion engine cars, there are what is now known as hybrid cars. That is cars that make use of a combination of diesel or petrol engines and an electric motor as means of propulsion. Are there advantages to owning hybrid cars?

Placid Tchoffor Atongka, Ph.D.: From climate and economic perspectives, it is very clear that a hybrid car is a better alternative to a car that only has an internal combustion engine running on gasoline or diesel. In addition to an internal combustion engine, hybrid cars are powered by one or more electric motors which use energy stored in batteries.

In a standard hybrid car, whenever one decelerates or uses the brakes, the regenerative braking system of the car generates electricity that is then stored in the car’s battery. At speeds up to 50 km/h, some hybrid cars could run only on the electric mode for some time. This implies fuel is saved and there is zero tailpipe emission of CO2. Furthermore, when a hybrid car is idling for a short period of time, the electric mode is activated.

Again, fuel is saved and there is zero tailpipe emission of CO2. Both in a state of idling and in motion, a car that only has an internal combustion engine as means of propulsion consumes fuel and emits CO2. I should also mention here that there also exist plug-in hybrid cars wherein the battery can be charged with an external source in a similar manner as in fully electric cars.

Placid Tchoffor Atongka, Ph.D., on field work

Thampers Media: You give the impression that countries without stable electricity might remain consumers of internal combustion engine cars for decades. Can electric cars be run in countries where you barely have stable energy for household consumption?

Placid Tchoffor Atongka, Ph.D.: For sure. Fully electric cars cannot compete with cars that only have internal combustion engines as their means of propulsion in countries that do not have an adequate generation of electricity. However, hybrid cars where propulsion can be achieved by both electricity and gasoline/diesel could be a good starting point to transition to a more fuel-efficient and climate-friendly transportation sector.Thampers Media: How do you look at the future of hybrid and electric cars in relation to climate change, say within a decade or two?Placid Tchoffor Atongka, Ph.D.: The future is for these kinds of cars. Most developed countries have set climate goals all focused on reaching zero-net greenhouse gas emissions by the years 2045–2050. This implies that the emission of greenhouse gases in all sectors including the transportation sector must reduce drastically and urgently. In fact, to drastically reduce the emission of greenhouse gases in the transportation sector, the European Union member states have recently voted to ban the sales of new cars with internal combustion engines from the year 2035.

Top crude-producing countries in Africa must start rethinking now. Photo: eia.gov

Thampers Media: Some developing countries like Equatorial Guinea, Nigeria, and Saudi Arabia are boasting about crude oil and petrol ownership production. We are all aware that the transport sector is a huge consumer of petrol and gas. With the shift to the production of Battery Electric Vehicles, BEVs and the ban on the sales of new cars with internal combustion engines by 2035 in the EU, there are two fears here. Oil-producing developing countries may become a dumping ground for cars with internal combustion engines. Their economies may also witness serious setbacks. What is your take on this and what could be a way out?

Placid Tchoffor Atongka, Ph.D.: Certainly countries whose economies depend significantly on the exportation of oil will have setbacks if they do not transition to something that is sustainable and climate-friendly. I would even say that countries that do not have an adequate generation of electricity and that also depend on the importation of used cars in their transportation sector should start rethinking their transportation strategy because in, let us say, 30 years from now the only used cars available for importation may be electric cars. If they do not start to develop their energy infrastructures to produce adequate electricity, how would they power their (used) electric cars?

Interviewed by Solomon Amabo

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *