October 07, 2022
Active Travel

Here’s How E-Bikes Help Reduce Carbon Emissions

Active travel – cycling and walking – cuts CO₂ emissions. We know this for a fact, thanks to research from this year.

By Jonathan Oldaker

Active travel – cycling and walking – cuts CO₂ emissions. We know this for a fact, thanks to research from this year.

But in recent times, ‘active travel’ has been expanding its fleet. Electric bikes, cargo bikes, and e-scooters, are all helping replace car journeys. So how can we measure their impact? While they do replace car journeys – theoretically a simple reduction in carbon output – the majority of the time, on the other hand we know little about their manufacturing and cost-to-run impact on the environment.

With new research published by the Transport Research Society, however, we are closer to ascertaining just how much e-bikes do help reduce carbon emissions.

So, how much? Well, 24.4 million metric tons per year, in England. There is a certain degree of nuance behind this of course, but this research helps us understand that alongside traditional modes of active travel, e-bikes have a big part to play too.

Here’s how e-bikes could help in reducing carbon emissions.


Understanding The Data

Researchers at the University of Leeds simulated journeys across England to work out how much potential CO₂ could be saved by replacing car trips with e-biking.

Taking into account factors including age, fitness level, and terrain for 32,000 urban and rural English neighbourhoods, each with between 1,000 and 3,000 people, they were able to understand the proportion of car journeys which could be replaced by e-bike travel.

This resulted in an average saving of 0.58 tonnes of CO₂ per person, totalling to 24.4 million metric tons per year.

It is an astonishing figure, and one which is mirrored in research by Lufthansa Innovation Hub’s TNMT, a transit and mobility trade publication:

Here, despite manufacturing impact, e-bikes still rank among lowest carbon emitting transport types.

But in contrast to the TNMT infographic, the research from the University of Leeds suggests e-bikes stand to save greater amounts of carbon dioxide compared with regular non-powered bicycles.

This is because of the much greater distance people can cover on an e-bike.


Can E-Bikes Help Even More Outside Of Urban Areas?

And that greater distance is even more vital in rural areas. Country lanes, remote towns, poorly surfaced roads, and long journey times all contribute to many people being unable to replace car trips with bicycling outside of the urban, built environment.

With E-bikes, we can extend the length of journeys people can make. Bikes can often be fitted with much wider tyres to eat up rougher roads as weight and rolling resistance become less of a priority with eclectic assistance, too.

Research on e-bikes in rural areas suggests than the savings far outweigh those in urban areas. This is largely due to more sparsely populated towns and villages, where distance times are longer. But also because car use in these areas is much higher, so you stand to gain more in terms of carbon reduction.

As ever, the picture is clear that switching from car journeys to active travel is a vital way of reducing carbon emissions. To do that calls for greater investment in infrastructure to make sure cycling and walking is safe and usable for everyone.

Read the full paper here: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0967070X21003401?via%3Dihub

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