So practical, the self-service electric scooter is still not very ecological

Practical, electric, ecological. Is the commercial triptych of self-service scooters on the wrong track with its latest charming asset? While providers praise its sustainability, the reality is less charitable. Detecting the ecological impact is a complex calculation. The carbon footprint takes into account the entire life cycle of the vehicle, from the extraction of its components to its disposal.

Different studies have embarked on this arithmetic. In 2019, researchers at the University of North Carolina estimated than an electric scooter in free-floating emitted 202 grams of CO2 per kilometer and per passenger on American soil. According to French mobility researcher Anne de Bortoli, Parisian scooters would emit 109 grams of CO2 per kilometer. Or half as much as a car, slightly less than a bus, but twice as much as shared bicycles, six times as much as the tram, and ten times as much as the RER and the metro.

“The crux of the problem is manufacturing, which generates half of their greenhouse gas emissions”, indicates Anne Aguiléra, researcher at the City Mobility Transport Laboratory (LVMT) of the University of Gustave-Eiffel and co-author with Alberica Bozzi ofa review of the scientific literature on electric scooters. “The lithium-ion battery and the aluminum frame are the components with the most impact from an environmental point of view., specifies their study. Aluminum has a particularly important impact, because it represents almost half of the vehicle’s weight and its production is very energy-intensive. ”

The collection, redeployment and recharging of scooters are at the origin of 43% of their environmental impact. Blame it on a system based on juicers, these subcontractors paid by the number of scooters recovered, which operate at the wheel of thermal engine vans. Their working environment is not defined with an ecological objective, but rather an economic one: efficiency and speed take precedence, at the expense of the carbon footprint.

Public policies increase their life expectancy

To compensate for their particularly polluting production and deployment, the lifespan of electric scooters must therefore be as long as possible. It was not always the case. “Their lifespan was only one to two months when they started. It is improving, we are one to two years away today ”, points Anne Aguiléra.

This gain in longevity can be explained by various factors: today’s scooters are more robust than their ancestors; the first models were not designed to withstand vandalism and the vagaries of the street; pressure from local elected officials has forced operators to refine their strategies.

Paris, Lyon and Marseille have thus restricted the number of self-service vehicles. The capital only allows three operators (against twelve previously) to roll 5,000 scooters each. Fleets lyonnaise and Marseillaise have only 4,000 devices each. The three metropolises have also set rules delimiting their use: regulated parking zones, speed restriction, limitation of travel near sensitive points – such as near rivers. All of these measures extend the life expectancy of vehicles.

“Very few manufacturers are respecting their obligations, because the battery ecotax contribution is not compulsory.”
Jocelyn Loumeto, General Delegate of the Federation of Micro-Mobility Professionals

The modal shift is also to be considered in the environmental bill of electric scooters, that is to say the shift of users from one mode of transport to another. “When this mode does not replace the car, it is less ecological than the soft modes such as the bus or the bicycle”, emphasizes Anne Aguiléra.

And in the facts? “The journeys observed are very short: from 1.5 to 2 kilometers on average [contre une dizaine pour les trottinettes privées, ndla]. It is mainly about filling the last mile. These are uses at the end of the day and weekends, recreational rather than utilitarian, observes the researcher. It partially replaces certain walking practices. It is a solution that is added to a very wide range: walking, bus, metro, vélib … ” That is to say an impact which remains marginal.

Private scooters take precedence over those with free access

Self-service scooters now seem to be giving way to private scooters. “64,000 electric scooters were sold in France in 2020, says Jocelyn Loumeto, general delegate of the Federation of micro-mobility professionals (FPMM). According to our estimates, there are around 20,000 free-floating scooters in France. However, it is estimated that 37% of uses are free-floating, so 63% of possessions. ”

What about their carbon footprint? If the manufacture weighs approximately the same weight as their cousins ​​in free access, the absence of a collection service gives them ballast. As for their life expectancy, Jocelyn Loumeto estimates it at three years for entry-level models, and four years for higher models. Longer duration, since they are better treated by their owners and less exposed to vandalism.

“We must distinguish between real life and duration of use, nuance nevertheless Jocelyn Loumeto. TO the first major failure on entry-level models, people don’t fix them. The machine is not at the end of its life, but at the end of its use. This is a very strong phenomenon for scooters, because among new entrants, 47% of purchases are made on machines valued at less than 300 euros. This is where the problem lies. Users tend to compare the cost of purchase and repair, and only repair models between 400 and 600 euros. ”

As for the modal shift, a study carried out with a sample of 600 users in support, the delegate of the FPMM assures us: 47% of new scooter owners have left their car for their daily commute to work. And 67% use it in addition to another mode of transport: bus, train, metro …

Where are the batteries hiding to die?

The lifespan of a lithium-ion battery ranges from one to five years, depending on a multitude of factors: manufacturing quality, frequency of use, driving behavior, number of recharges, outside temperatures. ..

Its recycling is handled by the French eco-organizations Screlec and Corepile, which collect and send the batteries to the recyclers. There, their recovery rate would oscillate between 65 and 75%. In 2020, no less than 20 tonnes of used scooter batteries were collected by Screlec.

The only downside, according to Jocelyn Loumeto: “Manufacturers who, in concrete terms, have very little to respect their obligations, because the battery ecotax contribution is not compulsory.” Namely, the funding windfall of eco-organizations. This hole in the portfolio risks weighing on their ability to stem the flow of used batteries.

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