It’s 2023 now, and our deadlines to do anything to lessen the effects of climate change are coming closer than ever, we need to find better alternatives for everything, especially with transportation. One of the most debated topics is whether Electric and Hybrid Vehicles are actually great for the environment or not.
Let’s set one thing straight right here and now; despite the claims of EV Companies that their cars have zero-emission capabilities, the life cycle of these vehicles does still bring an environmental impact and a heavy one at that.
So, do we need to find another solution for our transportation needs? Or should we settle with Electric Vehicles or Hybrids? Today, we’ll discuss everything from why should we care about all this to all the pros and cons of hybrids and electric vehicles. Let’s get started!
Why Should We Care?
I get it, I’m a huge fan of loud and fast cars and nothing can really beat the feeling of revving your engines. This is also why a lot of people are ignoring or being negatively optimistic about all this electric vs. gas. But we have to wake up, it’s not about gas vs electric, and it’s not about killing car enthusiasm, it’s about having a planet where we can still freely travel after 50 or 100 years. As for future generations and many animals, it can mean life and death.
So, we have to start caring about the environment and be able to make drastic changes soon, and one of the biggest things we have to change is our mode of transportation, especially when it comes to personal transportation.
According to the EPA back in 2020, the transportation sector is the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in the USA at 27%, and in that 27%, light-duty vehicles or personal vehicles contribute the most sitting in at 57%, yes, more than half!
That’s why the most drastic change has to come from us, we either have to use public transportation more often or switch to more eco-friendly cars. But are these cars really more eco-friendly? We have hybrids and fully electric vehicles as the current popular options, but let’s weigh in the good and the bad, starting with electric vehicles.
Problems With Electric Vehicles: It’s All About the Batteries!
Batteries in fully electric vehicles are huge! They mostly take up most of the flooring of the entire car with thousands of battery cells connected in a combination of series and parallel circuits, which means they’re wired up so that their voltage and amperage can double; an average battery pack for EVs can output up to 400 Volts and 1500 Amps, that’s ridiculously powerful! To put it in perspective, that’s more power than you can get from your house which usually draws 110V and around 100-300A from the power grid.
Now you know how powerful and huge these batteries are, you might wonder, “where do those batteries come from and how are they made? Are they even safe? And aren’t batteries toxic?” That’s where we’ll come in with our top problems with EV batteries: mining, manufacturing, handling, and recycling.
Mining for Batteries
The batteries we use in electric vehicles and even on our gadgets are either lithium-ion or lithium-polymer batteries, and these types of batteries require certain metals to work, and despite being called lithium-ion, there is more cobalt than lithium inside these batteries.
Let’s talk about cobalt first. Mining cobalt can and probably will cause deforestation and environmental degradation. There’s a lot of demand for cobalt these days, and the widespread implementation of fully electric vehicles means that the demand will only grow as we go forward and can lead to more environmental issues.
The world’s biggest reserves of cobalt are in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and around 70% of the world’s supply comes from this country. There are a lot of sociopolitical problems with cobalt mining in the DRC, but the ones that are extremely alarming are the presence of child and forced labor in some of these mining operations.
On the other hand, lithium mining can also cause serious environmental degradation depending on where the metal is mined. There are two main sources of lithium: hard-rock mines in Australia and brine mines in South America.
Hard-rock mining releases a lot of dust and other pollutants that can affect everyone around the mines, fortunately, the lithium mines in Australia are often found in the middle of nowhere which means not a lot of people and places are getting directly affected by the mining operations. But still, you can’t deny the damage that comes with mining:
But in South America, they don’t mine lithium by breaking up and processing rocks, they get it on lithium salt flats, and extracting lithium through salt flats requires a lot of water . This can cause more droughts and even affect the salinity of nearby water bodies affecting the people that live near these mines.
More metals make up a battery, but the point that I’ll make is wherever or however you mine the metals needed to make these eco-friendly cars, there will be negative effects on the environment, and a higher demand for these metals through electric vehicles will only make things worse unless manufacturers find out a way to make the mining processes more efficient.
So, we got the metals mined and did some damage, but that’s not all since manufacturing the batteries is the process that emits the most CO2.
A lot of emissions start with shipping the raw materials from country to country, this will include emissions from cargo ships, planes, or trucks which all mostly run from fossil fuel. Once the materials arrive at the factory, they would be melted, pressed, and wound up together by machines, the melting part costs the most CO2 especially if the factories are running on electricity from fossil fuels, it could get better though if the electricity comes from renewable energy.
But on average, manufacturing a whole battery for an electric vehicle can take as low as 2 metric tons or as high as 17 metric tons of CO2 emissions.
Recycling and Handling Batteries
Electric and hybrid vehicles use a lot of batteries, and they don’t last forever or even a lifetime like some conventional cars do, which can pose a problem when it comes to the battery’s end-of-life cycle. These batteries are heavy and fragile making them extremely difficult to recycle or even disassemble.
As we discussed, battery packs hold a lot of power and are made of thousands of individual battery cells, if even one of those battery cells gets punctured or breaks during recycling, it could cause a battery leak or a fire.
In an event of a battery leak, these chemicals can damage soil and underground water quality as well as vegetation in nearby areas. If a battery fire occurs, tons of CO2 will be emitted into the atmosphere at a rapid rate, and these fires will render all the metals that are painstakingly mined useless. It could also take days for firefighters to extinguish such fires and thousands of gallons worth of water would be used just to try and extinguish them.
As some of you might have already guessed, this doesn’t only happen at recycling, it’s a constant risk that every electric car has, one bad scrape from a speed bump or a rock hurling through your EVs undercarriage can be enough to turn your electric vehicle into a flaming car to hell. Fortunately, car companies like Tesla do make undercarriage protectors and covers that not only protect but also give the car better aerodynamics which in turn increases mileage and efficiency.
It is important to keep in mind that regardless of how environmentally friendly your vehicle may be, it’s useless if the electricity used to charge it also came from fossil fuel since you’ll only be redirecting your CO2 emissions from another source.
Unfortunately, despite the massive growth of renewable energy sources, fossil fuel power plants and other non-renewable sources are still the dominant sources worldwide, so as of now, EVs are still emitting way more CO2 than they should since they’re being charged from non-renewable sources.
But it’ll get better over time since fossil fuel power plants are being gradually phased out as more renewable energy sources are erected.
If you want to make a positive impact with your electric vehicles today, you can easily get solar panels for your home now. And yes, modern solar panels can deliver the load needed to charge an EV, and hey, you’re not just saving the environment, solar panels pay for themselves eventually so you can also save a lot of money down the road.
Verdict: Are EVs Better Than Conventional Vehicles?
So, let’s sum it up with electric vehicles by comparing them to conventional vehicles.
First off, both EVs and ICEVs produce emissions during the manufacturing process. However, the mining and manufacturing stages of EVs will yield much more CO2 than conventional vehicles do due to the sheer amount of batteries needed for each EV battery pack.
Manufacturing an average EV battery can produce anywhere from 2-16 metric tons of CO2, again, that’s only the battery, while a whole conventional vehicle will only produce around 4-6 metric tons of CO2.
But EVs are about saving CO2 emissions on use, not upon being made. Gasoline-powered cars emit around 5-6 metric tons of CO2 per year, while EVs only emit around 1-2 metric tons of CO2 per year, and that’s the worst-case scenario where it’s being charged through non-renewable sources. As we transition to renewable energy sources, an average EV’s yearly CO2 operating cost can drop to mere grams of CO2.
Overall, a conventional vehicle will emit a total of around 57 metric tons of CO2 in its lifetime, while an EV will only emit 28 metric tons in its lifetime, and even though in its early years where EV and energy production are inefficient, they’re still more environmentally friendly than conventional vehicles!
So that’s your answer! EVs aren’t at their best right now, but still, they are actually good for the environment!
How Can Electric Vehicles Improve?
I mentioned that the operational CO2 emissions of EVs will drastically improve as renewable energy sources become more prominent, but there is one thing that will solve almost every problem that current EVs have!
The main component that’ll make or break an EV is a good battery, and developing solid-state batteries for EVs should help reduce emissions on manufacturing and mining since these batteries will need less metal, plus it’s a more power-efficient and durable alternative to lithium-ion or lithium-polymer batteries solving the dangers of handling and recycling EV batteries, plus it’ll also make EVs more attractive to more people since it’ll charge faster and last longer! Click here if you want to learn more about solid-state batteries!
How About Hybrids?
Yes, I didn’t forget about that. And it’s simple; hybrids are the worst of both worlds. On manufacturing, you get high CO2 emissions and on running them you’ll also emit a lot of CO2 emissions. Yes, they use less fuel and emit less CO2 than conventional vehicles which is why they’re the most popular “Eco-friendly” option for such a long time. But they also have a battery that produced a lot of CO2 upon manufacturing and the running costs are just not good enough to offset their manufacturing costs.
There is no doubt that electric vehicles are better for the environment than their gasoline-powered counterparts, and yes EVs have a long way to go but know that EVs are still our best course of action heading to the future.
If you have any questions, counter-opinions, or any reactions, just leave them in the comments below, thanks for reading!
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