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Environmental impact of e-scooters - a sustainable mobility alternative?

Overview

E-scooters are currently in the focus of public interest and are controversially discussed as a new mobility alternative. Due to the rapid growth of the market for e-scooter sharing worldwide, the question of environmental sustainability and the advantages for urban mobility systems has been raised. In cooperation with several sharing service providers and the German Energy Agency (DENA), the Laboratory for Sustainability in Technology is conducting a life cycle analysis (LCA) for e-scooter sharing services. The aim is to objectify the discourse on e-scooters as part of the urban traffic turnaround and to develop recommendations for action to improve the environmental balance and maximize CO2 savings. The ecological potential of e-scooters is to be evaluated in a more differentiated way on the basis of different operating scenarios.

 

The term e-scooter

The so-called e-scooters are driven standing up, are approved for speeds of up to 20 km/h and are therefore specially designed for use by individuals on short distances in urban environments. While e-scooters have been in use for years in the USA or China, for example, they have only been approved for use on German roads since the Small Electric Vehicle Ordinance (eKFV) came into force in June 2019.

 

The method

The study uses Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) methodology to quantify the global impact of e-scooter sharing services on the environmental impact categories Global Warming Potential (GWP100) and Non-Renewable Primary Energy Requirement (PED).


Research design

The most important basis of a life cycle analysis is the collection of data. As a data basis for modeling the production phase, parts lists were analyzed and individual parts of e-scooters were disassembled and weighed. To obtain data on the energy consumption of production and transport, several sharing service providers were surveyed. This data was then combined into an overall model using LCA software.

     

    For the usage phase, several scenarios were developed on the basis of the surveys in order to be able to depict different usage and operating modes. These scenarios differ particularly in the following aspects:

    • How are the e-scooters loaded? Are only discharged batteries exchanged for charged ones or is the entire scooter collected for recharging? Are charging stations used?
    • Which scooter model is used? A lighter model with fixed battery or a heavier model with exchangeable battery?
    • How are the batteries or vehicles collected? With diesel transporters or with cargo bikes?
    • How long is the service life of the batteries?
    • With which mix of electricity are scooters charged? 

    Main results

    The detailed results of the study will be available after its publication.


    Findings obtained

    E-scooter sharing does not necessarily reduce the environmental impact of the entire transport system - but it does not necessarily lead to increased pollution either. Whether e-scooter sharing has a positive effect depends on many factors. The decisive factors are the production phase and the lifespan of the e-scooters.

    In the production phase, the environmental impact of aluminium is particularly relevant. It is recommended to use "green" aluminium, i.e. aluminium with a high percentage of recycling and renewable energy in production. It can also be advantageous to use fewer aluminium parts in general.

    It is also important to increase the lifespan of e-scooters, for example by using more robust scooters or anti-vandalism measures.

    With regard to the usage phase, an approach of replaceable batteries or charging stations should be used to minimise the number of collective trips.

    Overall, e-scooter sharing should be promoted as a complement to public transport, not as an alternative to it, to ensure that the "right" means of transport - i.e. more polluting means of transport such as the car - are substituted by e-scooters.


    Source: Own photographs (Nora Schelte 2020)

    The brands shown are not related to the study.