The rechargeable hybrid E85, less harmful to the environment than the electric car?

Ifpen has changed its name, but its DNA remains unchanged. The former “French Petroleum Institute” had actually added “New Energies” as a suffix in the 2010s. The institute’s roots focused on the oil industry. It is therefore not surprising to see communication rather focused on internal combustion engines! Ifpen has just published a large study that shows the interest in a rechargeable hybridization with E85 sauce on pure electric. A study commissioned for SNPAA (National Union of Agricultural Alcohol Producers), AIBS (Interprofessional Association of Beets and Sugar) and Intercereals. It is important to point this out for context…

The case study

The study is based on the case of a compact C-segment sedan© Christophe Congrega

Ifpen has examined the following vehicles:

  • 100% gasoline thermal vehicle (reference vehicle) VTH G
  • Thermal vehicle Superethanol-E85 VTH E85
  • Vehicle full hybrid Superethanol-E85 VFH E85
  • Plug-in hybrid car Superethanol-E85 VFH plugin E85
  • Electric car with 60kWh VE battery
  • Electric car with 80kWh VE+ battery

Unfortunately, the Institute does not specify the models used for the test. Shame. He is content to clarify that only one “segment” is being studied, namely the C segment, the Peugeot 308 and the Renault Mégane with a conventional mass of 1427 kg. A rather real case in terms of the French car fleet. The tests on the PHEV E85 model were split as follows: 40% electric/60% E85. Ifpen carried out its tests not on the WLTP model used for the approval of new vehicles, but on the Artemis cycle, which had for some time been proposed to replace the old NEDC. It is therefore supposed to be quite close to real conditions.

Less CO2, even in France

Ifpen summarizes the study with these conclusions:

  • Regarding light vehicles in France, the use of a plug-in hybrid engine is powered exclusively by Superethanol-E85, in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, at least as efficient as the battery electric vehicle. This applies to real-world use of the rechargeable hybrid, i.e. 40% of the kilometers in all-electric mode and 60% in combustion mode.
  • At the European level, with a more carbon-intensive electric mix, the E85 plug-in hybrid even outperforms the battery-powered electric vehicle.

It should be noted that this study is of the “well to tank” and “tank to wheel” type, i.e. from well to wheel. Battery manufacturing (China), grain production for the production of E85, electricity for electric cars: all the most important parameters are taken into account in the calculation of greenhouse gas emissions (greenhouse gases) for each case.

Greenhouse gas emissions for E85, electrical and thermal according to Ifpen
Greenhouse gas emissions for E85, electrical and thermal according to Ifpen© Ifpen

The institute also points out that the E85 connected to a non-rechargeable hybrid engine is very relevant. But it is clear today that apart from Ford, very few manufacturers have chosen this energy. And so, although there are many conversion boxes, nothing will beat a specific development of the engine to burn E85 (valve seats and other mechanical modifications…). Unfortunately, the supply is far too limited at present, and developments in electricity are so expensive that large groups cannot afford to be on several fronts at the same time.

However, a small caveat to the study’s conclusions: they are valid for a period of 150,000 km. The 250,000 km graph shows electric takeover of other powertrains, including the PHEV E85. And it is logical: the most important releases linked to battery production have been amortized.

Biofuels, really virtuous?

And then, of course, there will be some left over the debate about using land to produce fuel rather than food, with very intensive use for these reasons. The survey probably doesn’t take that into account the potential impact of maize cultivation (very water-intensive, a resource that has become sensitive), especially, but more generally, the consequences of very intensive agriculture on the land, always to produce fuel instead of food. However, France remains moderate in this area: 3% of agricultural land is used to produce these fuels. In comparison, 40% of the nationwide corn in the US goes into a tank instead of a plate! A recent study by the National Academy of Sciences pointed to these biofuels and found that they contribute more to global warming… than petroleum-based gasoline.

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