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Environmental Impact of E-scooters

A sustainable mobility alternative?

Environmental balance of e-scooter sharing services for more sustainable urban mobility using the example of Berlin.

E-scooters have potential: With further technical improvements, their greenhouse gas emissions can be lower than those of cars, scooters and public transport. However, due to their short lifespan, the greenhouse gas balance was inadequate when they entered the market.

With further optimisation, e-scooters in shared mode can make urban mobility more environmentally friendly. This is the conclusion of a joint study by the Laboratory for Sustainability in Technology at the Bochum University of Applied Sciences and the German Energy Agency (dena). Compared to the market launch in 2019, the greenhouse gas balance of electric scooters can be significantly improved through various measures. The study analyses the impact of several efficiency-boosting measures, for example in production, charging and fleet management. Since their approval in Germany, e-scooters have been at the centre of controversial discussions. With the rapid market growth of e-scooter sharing services, the question of their sustainability and contribution to climate protection has come to the fore.

The environmental footprint of e-scooters in sharing mode was analysed based on the use case of the city of Berlin. The results provide an overview of the environmental compatibility of e-scooters: while the greenhouse gas balance at the time of market launch was worse than that of conventional cars (197 g CO2 eq/km), in the future e-scooters could have a lower environmental impact than public transport (59 g CO2 eq/km) according to the most innovative scenario. After first optimisations, such as the use of electrified vans or cargo bikes, the greenhouse gas balance is 123 g CO2 eq/km according to the study's assumptions. The environmental impact of the e-scooters was analysed over their entire life cycle.

To further improve the balance, the use of secondary materials, recycling and renewable electricity will be required to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the production phase. Extending the service life of e-scooters is also an important factor. For a more climate-friendly use phase, renewable electricity and the use of electrified vehicles or cargo bikes to collect empty e-scooters or change batteries are necessary. In addition, the integration of further charging infrastructure in urban areas, such as battery swapping stations or decentralised charging stations, will be crucial in the future, especially by involving users in the battery swapping or charging process.

Semih Severengiz, head of the Laboratory for Sustainability in Technology at Bochum University of Applied Sciences, points out: "Fortunately, some sharing providers have already implemented effective measures to improve their environmental footprint compared to when they first entered the market. For example, newer models from providers are more robust and therefore have a longer lifespan, some have replaceable batteries and service transport is provided by electric vehicles. The first vendors are also testing charging or battery swapping stations. Nevertheless, a comprehensive assessment of the environmental impact of e-scooters is important to take into account the interactions in the transport sector and possible substitution effects with other modes of transport. The study helps to objectify the discussion across all manufacturers".

Andreas Kuhlmann, CEO of dena, explains: "E-scooters have the potential to enrich the transition to urban transport. Micromobility as a whole can drive the transformation process towards more sustainable mobility in urban areas. However, this requires resource-saving use and optimal integration into the transport system. There is still room for improvement.

Another conclusion of the study: For micromobility to be used efficiently, it must be integrated into the transport system. To this end, more sharing providers should seek to link up with public transport. The first partnerships are already underway in Berlin. Further dovetailing of services is conceivable. In addition, the range of scooters could be extended to districts on the outskirts of the city to complement public transport.

The detailed results of the study can be found here:

Deutsche Energie-Agentur GmbH (dena), dena STUDY "E-scooter sharing - a holistic assessment", June 2021