Blog Post #4: Do Electric Cars Benefit the Environment?
Have you ever been told that electric vehicles produce no emissions? If yes, then you are not alone. Electric automobiles are widely seen as the solution for climate change because of their source of energy. However, their dark secret lies behind their production and charging stage. If you originally thought that EVs are emission-free, let me tell you, they have quite a lot.
What are Greenhouse Gasses?
Climate change is one of the biggest environmental problems in the 21st century. This is primarily caused by increasing human activities that emit greenhouse gasses. These gasses trap heat in the atmosphere and leads to global warming. CO2 makes up about 80% of the greenhouse gas emission in the US. As carbon dioxide enters the atmosphere, it soaks up infrared energy and re-emits it back in all directions. Half of the energy goes out to space, but the other half returns to Earth as heat, causing the greenhouse effect. The emission of CO2 are made from burning fossil fuels (coal, natural gas, oil), solid waste, and trees.
During Production of an EV:
It’s difficult to believe, but the current production of an EV is much more damaging to the environment than an internal combustion engine (ICE) car. One of the key aspects of producing of EVs is their battery. The large batteries that electric vehicles use are made of rare earth metals such as lithium, cobalt, and nickel. Since these metals only exist beneath the earth’s surface, it requires many heavy carbon-emitting types of machinery to mine these materials.
More than half of the world’s lithium supply comes from the lithium triangle in southwestern Africa. To extract these earth metals, miners drill through the crust of the salt to tap mineral-rich brine to the surface. Lithium mining is very inefficient and it takes about 750 tonnes of brine to produce 1 just tonne of lithium. Mines in Chile consume 65% of the region’s water, and To note that the lithium triangle is one of the driest places on earth, very little water is left for local farming and agriculture. The whole process of mining and producing the battery itself actually involves an unfavourable amount of carbon emissions. As well as emissions, large amounts of acid waste and radioactive residues are also made. This is a problem that is only going to grow bigger and bigger unless the productions become more efficient.
The sales of EVs are growing each year, and in 2020 alone, plug-in vehicles have reached more than 3.2 million globally. To produce that many batteries, lithium is on high demand. It takes 8 to 10 metric tonnes of carbon emissions to produce an electric vehicle. The bigger the battery is, the more the emission it is going to take to produce it. Small economy-sized EVs might only take 2 metric tonnes while large EVs such as the Tesla Model X could be responsible for up to 17 tonnes of carbon emissions. Comparatively, an average internal combustion vehicle produces 7 tonnes which is less than an EV. But why? That’s because the production process doesn’t require lithium mining.
Where Does the EV’s power come from?
Another important point that we must look into is where EVs get their electricity from. Since most EV owners charge their car from the grid, and we need to find out how the electricity is produced. 79% of the energy in the US are produced from carbon-intensive sources such as coal, fossil fuel, and nuclear power plants. However, as much as 67% of Canada’s electricity comes from renewable sources such as the hydro dam. Ultimately, the emissions from EV’s power source will vary depending on where you live.
As the world is developing, cleaner and more sustainable energy are developing rapidly and charging EVs are becoming less and less carbon-intensive every year. Popular renewable energy sources include hydroelectric dams, solar panels, wind turbines, and tidal power plants. Many global initiatives are aiming to transition to a 100% renewable energy source in the near future. New York governor Andrew Cuomo pledges to transition New York to 100% carbon-free electricity by 2040. Similarly, Tesla is working on reducing emissions during manufacturing. They enacted an Operations Energy Efficient program, aiming to extract emissions from their manufacturing, charging, and all the other operations and using 100% renewable energy. When that is achieved, the environmental impact of operating an EV will reduce significantly.
Comparison with an internal combustion engine (ICE) car:
With these in mind, EVs still carry a lower carbon impact than ICE vehicles. An average ICE car emits about 5.2 metric tonnes of carbon emission each year during its use. Over the lifespan, the car is responsible for a total of 57 metric tonnes of emissions. The extraction of crude oil from the ground to gas takes a lot of steps, and each step has an environmental impact. This process produces greenhouse gasses such as CO2, methane, and nitrous oxide. Oil refineries deliver an unbelievably high amount of CO2 into the atmosphere. Each year, they release 280 billion tonnes of CO2! As an ICE car emits about 57 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide, a typical EV emits half of that amount at 28 metric tonnes. Although EVs have a damaging emission during its production, it doesn’t have an exhaust to emit anything out. The only environmental impact from owning an EV would be the CO2 and other gasses emitted from electric power plants. To be running on completely renewable energy, you can install solar panels onto your roof and charge your vehicle with the electricity generated from it. Then, your emissions will be reduced to almost nothing.
Thanks for reading and I hope you learned something helpful!