People all too easily assume that electric cars are one hundred percent green. Unfortunately, they are not.
Sure, electric cars don’t rip through petroleum and natural gas like petrol vehicles, but the production process still emits a large amount of greenhouse gas. This is hardly a hallmark of sustainability.
Electric vs petrol vehicles
Though driving electric vehicles may indeed be greener, manufacturing eco-friendly cars simply isn’t. Each car comprises of a wealth of raw materials that are difficult to extract and cost lots of energy to obtain.
The Devonshire Research Group suggests that electric vehicles such as the Tesla Model 3 create pollution and carbon emissions in many ways not easily visible. We should neither exaggerate nor underplay the green ‘credentials’ of electric vehicles.
Traditional petrol driven vehicles cause massive CO2 emissions. They commonly cap major urban areas like Beijing in clouds of exhaust emissions and pollution. On a global scale, carbon dioxide is one of the biggest causes of the greenhouse effect, which damages the environment and exacerbates global warming. Electric vehicles offer a welcome escape from this problem.
Yet despite the terrible track record of traditional vehicles, electric vehicles do not run in a vacuum. Power plants across the world generate electricity by burning natural gas and other fossil fuels. Electric vehicles cannot be considered environmentally friendly when they rely on unsustainable production of electricity. At best, electric vehicles can help us to become greener but they aren’t a solution in of themselves (at least in their current form).
Production of electric vehicles also produces a number of environmental problems. A study by the Fraunhofer Institute for Building Physics suggests that it takes twice as much energy to produce an electric car as a petrol driven one. At best, electric cars are two steps forward, and one step back.
Electric vehicles manufacturing process
Unlike conventional vehicles, electric cars are designed to be extra light and therefore require manufacture with special metals in order to function well. Besides lithium, batteries require graphite, cobalt, nickel, and manganese.
Each one of these niche metals needs to be mined, ripped out from the ground. The rarer the metal, the higher the costs incurred in mining it. As demand for rare metals increases, the amount of energy required for mass production of electric vehicles will increase dramatically. In short, the manufacturing process of electric vehicles can have as negative an environmental impact as fossil fuels ever have.
Of course, it will require more energy to extract such metals at the beginning of the electric vehicle revolution. It will taper off as accessibility increases, but we are still far away from a sustainable transport choice.
Ensuring these vehicles become cleaner will require additional technological development.
The green potential of electric vehicles
Nonetheless, electric vehicles they are a step in the right direction. Today electric cars don’t run on completely renewable energy, but they could do so in future. The same cannot be said for petrol driven cars. Even though electric cars aren’t yet green, they show a great deal of promise.
In the US, The Department of Energy awarded $9.5 million to a California recycling company specializing in lithium batteries (the kind used in electric vehicles).
More and more companies have begun to specialize in recycling lithium in response to the impending electric vehicle revolution, so assume a wider push towards making electric vehicles renewable will continue.
The future of electric vehicles
Despite what critics of renewable energy might say, the transition towards eliminating the use of fossil fuels is a step in the right direction. As our technology becomes more advanced, we’ll be better placed to make greener transport choices as time goes on.
But we must be clear and vocal about our criticisms of some of the non-sustainable features of the electric vehicle industry, such as the mining process and the general production of electricity. It will be interesting to see how the automotive industry transitions away from fossil fuels to electric power over the next few decades.
Commentators that laud electric vehicles as a green transport choice are obscuring the nuances of the way our energy is produced and our vehicles manufactured. Ultimately, until we find a way to produce electric vehicles without extracting natural materials, we’ll be limited in terms of eco-friendly power. Right now, it’s just not easy being green.
Giles Kirkland is an environmentally conscious car expert and clean technology advocate. Passionate about healthy lifestyle and smart solutions, he shares his knowledge with other drivers and sustainable living enthusiasts. You can find his articles on Twitter and at Oponeo. Most often Giles writes about electric vehicles, safe driving and alternative energy, as well as traveling and current issues from the automotive world.