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"In five years, everyone will want an electric car."

Hardly any topic is discussed with so much heated debate as electromobility. We grilled electrotechnology expert Prof. Andrea Vezzini about topics such as sustainability, range and price. He is head of the BHF Centre for Energy Storage at Bern University of Applied Sciences.

Andrea Vezzini, electromobility is the current buzzword. Is it a short-term hype or long-term trend?

The phasing out of fossil fuels is one of the world's most pressing questions to which answers must be found. In Switzerland, 39% of CO2 emissions come from transport, excluding flights. Electrification towards electric cars powered by batteries therefore has enormous potential.

Why are you so sure of this?

Because major headway has been made in the development of the lithium-ion battery. And because even the major car manufacturers are now prepared to devote time and energy to exploring and further developing electromobility. E-cars are better to design than combustion-engine vehicles. For example, their engines require less space than those of diesel or petrol cars, offering potential to improve safety and driving dynamics, for instance.

You mentioned the battery. Its production is controversial.

Yes, that is a legitimate discussion. If the production and charging of the batteries emit more CO2, a vehicle such as the e-Golf needs to be on the road for 125’000 kilometres before it can fall below a positive CO2 balance. However, if renewable energy is used in production and operation, savings of up to 80% are possible with the battery.

Is battery recycling being discussed by the industry at all?

Of course. There are designs and manufacturing processes that prove that over 92% of batteries can be recycled. The technology is there but no one is building a recycling plant at present because all the batteries are still in the cars. When it comes to extracting raw materials, great efforts are also being made to ensure they are as sustainable and socially acceptable as possible.

Do the batteries last for a long time?

The cyclical service life is crucial here. It dictates how often the batteries can be charged and discharged. If one cycle is enough for 400 kilometres, then 1’000 cycles will allow for 400’000 kilometres. In new electric cars, the battery lasts longer than the vehicle. Incidentally, it is exciting that the lithium-ion battery’s energy conversion rate increases if it is only partly charged. This means even higher mileages are possible. Tesla is already talking about a "one-million-kilometre car".

On the subject of range, the Mobility Zoe can travel up to 400 kilometres. Is that enough?

Yes. I don’t think range is a factor any more. In addition, charging stations are being expanded across all of Switzerland.

Who is driving that?

The government – and it is doing so rather skilfully. It is launching quick-charge stations at service stations along all Swiss national roads. These will be ready in two years and are able to give vehicles energy for around 100 to 150 kilometres in 20 minutes. The perfect amount of time for a coffee break.

What is the situation like in the cities?

In urban areas, there are even greater challenges. I have an image of Oslo in my head, where car parks have charging stations by default. In Switzerland too, cities and municipalities would certainly be called upon to promote relevant designs and implementations.

Unfortunately, car prices are still too high. How will they evolve?

Manufacturers will try to offer electric cars in the same price segment as the current combustion-engine models. This means that, for the same price, we will be able to buy a better car that even costs less to maintain. For the seller, this is the so-called tipping point. The situation can be compared to the smartphone touchscreen – here, there suddenly came a time when no one wanted to use a phone with a keyboard any more. I am convinced that the tipping point for electric cars will come in the next four to five years.