Are EVs Eco-Unfriendly?

When something seems too good to be true – well, let’s just say that sometimes it really isn’t. Case in point: electric vehicles or EVs. We’ve been told that cars and trucks powered by electric batteries that plug into charging station outlets are the bee’s knees and the key to a carbonless emissions future.

The first modern EVs rolled out in the 2000s. Since then, many consumers have embraced EV (100% electric). Also popular are hybrid cars that have both electric and gasoline engines working together to minimize petroleum
burning.

While data does show that electric vehicles emit lower levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions while they are operational, what about the manufacturing process – how clean and green is that?

When evaluating the “carbon footprint” of an electric vehicle, emissions due to its production and maintenance must be considered and added to the vehicle’s total carbon footprint.

Some analysts have reported that EVs produce more CO2 than diesel at the power plant rather than the exhaust pipe. Even eco-friendly factories building cars that are fueled by solar or wind power must also have coal or gas
back-up generators to provide electricity when the wind ain’t blowin’ and the sun don’t shine. 

During such times when no alternative manufacturing power source is available, EVs run partly on hydrocarbons – just like their gas-guzzling counterparts. Even EVs charged with solar- or wind-generated energy rely on
batteries made in China and other countries. The huge quantities of fossil fuels required to produce EV batteries offset the claimed reduction in GHG emissions.

Most electric car makers outsource their lithium-ion EV battery production to places with some of the biggest carbon footprints on the planet – such as China, infamous for its polluted air, land, and water from unbridled,
unregulated industrialization.

Researchers are finding that battery production for electric cars produces as much as 74 percent more CO2 than that of an efficient conventional car if the EV batteries are manufactured in a factory powered by fossil fuels.

Industry experts say that how clean an EV is depends on where and how it was made as well as the owner’s electric power source. The lithium-ion battery, weighing about 1,000 pounds, is the costliest component in an EV.

More than twice the amount of energy is consumed manufacturing an electric car than a conventional one – largely due to the battery. Not only that but a typical EV’s battery pack can release 73-98 grams of CO2 into the air.

In addition, the metals used to build the battery, such as cobalt and manganese, are mined in very few countries that use extraction methods that are far from eco-friendly.

Analysts in the electric-drive system integration department at Mercedes-Benz estimate that an EV releases significantly more climate-warming gases at its manufacturing stage than a gasoline- or diesel-engine car, which
emits only 20 percent of its lifetime CO2 at the manufacturing stage.

A 2019 study led by Christoph Buchal and Hans-Werner Sinn of the University of Cologne in Germany concluded that electric vehicles in their country, given their energy mix, emit a bit more CO2 than a modern diesel car
in the best case – but sport a battery capable of covering only half the range of a tank of diesel. In the worst case, CO2 emissions are “much higher.”

German carmaker VW confirmed that its e-Rabbit EV emits slightly more CO2 than its Rabbit Diesel within the German energy mix.

Austrian think tank Joanneum Research conducted a large-scale study commissioned by the Austrian automobile association (ÖAMTC) and its German counterpart (ADAC) that also confirmed those findings. Researchers found that a mid-sized electric passenger car in Germany must drive 219,000 km (136,000 mi) before its CO2 emissions begin to outperform the corresponding diesel car.

In short, EVs run on electricity produced by burning dirty fossil fuels make their climate benefits null and void. The overall carbon footprint of a battery-powered EV, regardless of the size, is identical to a conventional
car powered by a combustion engine.

The day of the lithium-ion battery may be coming to a close, chased by the dawn of innovative clean technologies on the horizon being developed to provide power for electric vehicle manufacturing and operation.

Advancements in hydrogen fuel cell technology are making EV batteries much less expensive than traditional vehicular gasoline engines, making them commercially viable for mass production.

Scientists at the University of Waterloo in Canada developed a new fuel cell that is more durable and lasts at least 10 times longer than previous technology. These fuel cells can also provide a continuous flow of electricity
rather than intermittently.

 

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