By Andrea Roggero



Those wishing to understand if, and to what extent, the shift from the traditional combustion engine to hybrid and electric cars is worthwhile should ask themselves one key question: are electric cars actually much more “eco-friendly” than petrol or diesel cars? And, by extension: can electric cars truly represent the future of individual mobility?


To provide exhaustive answers to these questions, let us start with some general remarks. First of all, it might prove useful to clarify the exact meaning of the term “eco-friendly”. From a purely literal point of view, one of the most fitting and all-encompassing definitions is: “something that represents a safeguard for the environment”.


In order to determine whether they truly represent a “safeguard” for the environment, each of the options currently available should be analyzed in terms of overall environmental footprint and actual advantages compared to the other solutions. Let us thus review the three main types of propulsion that the various models now on the market are identified by. These include traditional cars with internal combustion engine, hybrid cars (an intermediate solution characterised by strong worldwide growth), and plug-in electric cars, understood as having exclusively electric propulsion.


It is immediately evident that a truly all-encompassing analysis cannot overlook the global costs that each solution entails for the users. Indeed, said costs automatically translate into environmental costs, above all when considered in terms of consumables and their deterioration.


Let us think, for instance, of the environmental impact of each oil change, which no conventional combustion engine, however modern and sophisticated, can ever avoid. And what about replacing the tyres and the environmental implications of their disposal? So far, only railway transport has managed to do away with using tyres, and electric cars are no different. As an over-generalisation, it is worth pointing out that electric cars, and only electric cars, require far less maintenance than combustion engine automobiles, at least for what concerns regular servicing and checks. On the other hand, for the time being, electric cars have a far from negligible impact on the environment, due to the sheer cost of their battery packs for energy storage as well as the environmental consequences of their disposal.

Lastly, it should be acknowledged that electric cars perform much better in the equation that transform electric power into kinetic energy, whereas the overall efficiency of combustion engines in transforming fossil fuel into kinetic energy still remains a few percentage points lower (due to the portion of heat energy that is wasted).


The worst-performing vehicles in terms of costs are the so-called hybrid cars (combining combustion engine and electric motor), whose limitations and environmental drawbacks are comparable to those of conventional vehicles with combustion engine propulsion only. This combines with the cost of disposal of the energy storage pack, which is similar – though not exactly the same, due to differences in size – to that of electric vehicles. In this case too, the electric component certainly contributes to increasing by a few percentage points the car’s overall energy efficiency for what concerns the transformation into kinetic energy.


Now, then, by simplifying further, we may equate the time of deterioration of a car propelled by a combustion engine to that of a car powered by an electric motor (i.e. around 20 years and/or around 500,000 km) to draw a general “environmental cost” comparison. Also in this case, due to the reasons mentioned above, hybrid cars would undoubtedly fall short.

Another key element to consider is that of the so-called “exhaust emissions” which are a major drawback of traditional cars compared to electric cars (by definition, zero-emission vehicles with much higher overall energy efficiency), whereas hybrid solutions hold an intermediate position, though closer to that of traditional automobiles.


When we broaden our horizons and consider how the energy needed to operate an exclusively electric car is produced, this additional “external” factor becomes utterly crucial and runs the risk of being affected by demagogy.


The most virtuous model currently available, i.e., the “Tesla” + “SolarCity” combination, for now present only on the US market, is: “an electric car that is recharged thanks to the energy produced by a photovoltaic system installed on the roof of your home”. If we consider this option, the environmental equation takes on a new meaning and becomes self-legitimised.

Conversely, if that same energy is produced by a coal power plant, the equation completely loses its meaning and legitimisation. Furthermore, some may object that the abovementioned “Tesla + SolarCity” combination cannot be extended to the majority of the world population since, from a practical and realistic standpoint, only a small portion of those living on our planet have an independent house equipped with a solar panel system.


It becomes evident that the central element is not so much to understand how a specific car model and its propulsion system work, but rather how the energy powering it is produced.

Simply put, a traditional (combustion engine) automobile refers to a now obsolete environmental model that ought to be overcome. Nonetheless, to be truly credible, the electric model destined to replace it must inevitably refer to a radically new and updated system regarding the ways in which the energy propelling it is produced. Without this indispensable logical but, above all, practical step, electric cars too run the risk of becoming a mere demagogical tool doomed to failure, just like hybrid cars, since overall efficiency is indeed increased but the root problem is neither addressed nor solved.


Lastly, according to the most reliable estimates – and speaking in purely theoretical terms –, if we were to replace the car fleet now on the roads with exclusively electric vehicles, based on the level of technology available at present, the worldwide energy demand would easily increase tenfold.

Therefore, we would not only fail to alleviate or solve the problem, but we would actually cause a dramatic rise in the need for electric power, from the current levels to amounts in excess of ten times more. As a direct consequence, emissions and pollution would spike proportionally.

It is clear that any reflection on sustainable mobility, aiming to achieve tangible environmental results, cannot ignore the scope of energy development, i.e., the energy model to which it refers.


Looking again at the “Tesla” phenomenon, it is particularly interesting to note that, in the worldwide automotive sector, a sort of “fox hunt” has been unleashed, in which the lightning-fast and clever fox is represented by Elon Musk’s company and the innovative products that it incessantly develops. However, besides the vehicles produced, the real innovation resides in the model that Musk is creating through collaborations among the companies in his group, from the production of clean energy to the way in which it is used on the roads, with consequent optimisation of overall costs, values, efficiency, and environmental impact.


In years to come, this trend, which is already occurring in the most advanced countries, will represent one of the most radical innovations and a true break with the past. The ensuing model for sustainable mobility will have mankind at its core and revolve around three main aspects:


1. Architecture                      2. Mankind                3. Mobility


Let us make a brief digression and turn to our distant past. As far back as in Ancient Rome, the Latin people understood the importance of the autonomy and self-sustainability of their houses, i.e., “domus”, including the use and storage of rainwater within them. Each domus was built around an impluvium, directly connected to underground reservoirs used to collect rainwater. The water was not only drunk by the residents but also served the purpose of irrigating gardens, orchards, and vegetable patches, thus representing an integral and essential part of the virtuous and autonomous Roman housing system.

The concept of “domus” has since then evolved into the modern “farm”, but the underlying system has remained fundamentally unchanged until our modern times. From now on, and above all thanks to the development and diffusion of electric cars, the concept of house will have to evolve further from a “facility for the protection and support of its inhabitants” to a more modern and broader idea of “basic and autonomous cell for environmental and energy sustainability”. This will be achieved by developing the concept of energy self-sustainability of buildings, especially if we consider the far from negligible environmental impact that buildings have when they need to be heated during the winter months, greatly contributing to air pollution in cities.


In view of the limited sustainability of electric mobility achieved so far, mostly due to the scarce availability of clean energy, at ECR Technologies we have taken on an approach that is as forward-looking and proactive as possible. A comprehensive view of the current energy system is our starting point, and we are working towards evolving and developing it in order to make it more efficient thanks to new ideas. By implementing several projects, ECR Technologies strives to put in place the first piece of the virtuous system given by the three key components to attain energy self-sustainability: production + storage + consumption of electric power (the last one of which also for mobility purposes). Working on these principles, we can anticipate the future by making any type of building or real estate unit autonomous in energy terms, be it for residential, commercial or industrial use. This is achieved by means of a system linking technical and economic sectors that have so far remained separated. Our ultimate goal is to implement in practical terms an economic and eco-friendly vision able to bring together in a synergetic way mankind, machines, and the environment.





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