How sustainable is the Pedal Me fleet?
A comparison vs electric and conventional vans
In our previous post we discussed how cargo bikes can take more efficient routes and contribute to a happier, healthier city. It is becoming increasingly obvious that London needs to become cleaner, and fast. Last month, for the first time, air quality in London was listed as the cause of a young girl’s death.
Switching to electric vehicles has been painted as the picture of the green future of urban mobility by many. While this is progress, and there is certainly a place for electric vans, they take a huge amount of resources to manufacture. These vehicles also run on a fossil fueled grid, so does it just shift the problem elsewhere? In this article we investigate how sustainable cargo bikes are, from manufacture through to usage. The results show that switching to cargo bikes can offer a considerable and immediate reduction in carbon emissions.
1. Sustainability of manufacturing
a. Manufacturing emissions compared
Estimates for the amount of CO2 emissions produced in the manufacturing of each vehicle were calculated using figures from a published study. The electric van comes in top at nearly 9 tonnes of CO2 emissions due to the energy intensive process used to manufacture the large 40kwh battery pack. The conventional van comes in slightly lower and the Pedal Me cargo bike, with its minimal 60kg aluminium frame, in last place – by some margin. 280kg of Co2 compared to 8800kg and 7500kg for an electric and conventional van.
b. Environmental effects of large scale battery production
Governments across Europe have launched plans to phase out conventional vehicles in favour of electric vehicles. In order to do so, battery production will go through the roof, and demand for the resources needed to make them will skyrocket. The Guardian recently published a report highlighting the unprecedented environmental disaster waiting to happen. The battery pack on a standard EV is 80 times bigger than on a cargo bike. While a cargo bike boom would have some environmental impact, battery production would be at a much more manageable scale, and these effects easier to mitigate.
2. Riding emissions
a. Cargo bikes vs Electric vans
We estimated how much electricity our e-assist cargo bikes use, based on the typical mileage from a fully charged battery. It comes in at 0.017 kwh per km, which on the average 2019 UK grid would produce 4.5g of CO2 per km, factoring in losses in the grid and battery charger. When using the same assumptions for electric vans, the figures come in at over 10 times the cargo bike. Efforts to clean up the grid and move to renewable energy sources will have a great effect in reducing emissions from EVs, but it will be a slow process. Cargo bikes are available now.
b. Comparison with conventional vans
Conventional vans paint a much darker picture, emitting over 200g of CO2 per km, when considering the fossil fuel burnt, plus the energy to get the fuel into the van. A large portion of this is emitted locally, as well as particulate matter and toxic gases. Not to mention the devastation required to extract oil from the ground.
c. Effect of rider diet
The electricity usage of e-bikes is so low that the biggest contributor to emissions at Pedal Me is the rider diet. While the intensity of riding is fairly low, food production is one of the biggest emitters of CO2 globally, especially with meat and dairy. However, the effect is minimised as typically extra food to make up this energy is in the form of cereals, sugar and other carbohydrates. On this basis, we have estimated that extra rider food contributes just 22g CO2 per km.
3. The lifetime picture
When stacking up manufacturing and usage, the advantage that cargo bikes have becomes even clearer. We have assumed a lifespan of 100,000km for the cargo bike and 250,000km for the vans. Even when rider food is factored in, the electric van emits nearly 3 times as much CO2 as the cargo bike. The conventional van proves why it’s being phased out, with over 8 times the emissions.
The difference in carbon emissions is so great that one of our cargo bikes could be manufactured and ridden for over 300,000km and produce the same amount of emissions as a brand new electric van just rolling out the factory.
Our analysis clearly suggests cargo bikes as the overall cleanest option for moving around. An option that is immediately available and can instantly reduce emissions. When we consider that cargo bikes can use shorter trips, as discussed in our previous post, the advantages become even more indisputable.
So why cargo bikes? Cleaner miles, shorter trips, happier cities.