The number of electric cars on the road is getting bigger than you can imagine, yet the hidden carbon costs of these vehicles are not familiar to many.
Currently, there are around 20 million electric cars all over the world, with the industry being valued at over $200 billion. To protect environmental sustainability through lower carbon emissions, many governments are imposing regulations to use electric vehicles by banning traditional fuel and diesel-burning cars.
But believe it or not, Electric cars are not as green as they are marketed. There are some facts behind the manufacture, use, and recycling of these vehicles that might make you rethink the use of Electric Cars for a greener environment.
In simple words, Electric cars run on batteries that can be rechargeable as opposed to traditional cars that have a combustion engine and depends on the burning of fuel and natural gas. The concept of battery-powered cars was introduced in 1828. However, the world has seen a massive shift towards this type of vehicle in the last few years as sustainability concerns are rising. The use of battery electric vehicles has increased from 6.9 million in 2020 to 13.1 million in 2021. It is projected that the market of electric vehicles is going to be $823.75 billion in 2030.
Famous car companies like BMW, Nissan, Volkswagen, Honda, and others are also manufacturing electric cars due to increased demand. With growth this big, it is anticipated that these cars can be the solution to sustainable development. But there are some adverse responses to environmental and humanitarian aspects happening behind electric cars that everyone should know.
Manufacturing of Electric Cars
The core issue with traditional diesel-run cars is the combustion engine that produces a harmful level of carbon. But the manufacturing process of electric cars can have a more damaging impact on the environment. The emission of Co2 and greenhouse gases is bigger when it comes to producing electric cars compared to manufacturing a similar level of a traditional car. A report by Volvo shows that manufacturing Electric cars costs 70% more carbon than a traditional car produced in the same factory. Thus, an electric car right after its production has hurt the environment more than a traditional fossil-fuel-based car.
But why is the difference so big? If Electric cars are supposed to lower carbon emissions, how come it has a bigger carbon footprint? This is because the manufacturing of the battery in electric cars needs natural elements like Cobalt and Lithium. These resources need to be mined and refined in factories which cause greater emissions of carbon. Also, the refining of these materials is not done in similar factories where the batteries are produced. They visit all the way to China or other countries to get refined and come back to the factories through the same route. This also contributes to the carbon emissions of electric cars. Besides having a dire environmental effect, the manufacturing of electric cars also includes child labor and unfair treatment of workers in underdeveloped regions.
Then why is there so much hype for electric cars if the car ends up with bigger carbon emissions? This is mainly because electric cars start causing less carbon emission after production while fuel-burning cars continue making bigger carbon footprints, and after one point, they surpass the overall carbon emission of electric cars. Although it’s not like electric cars completely stop hurting the environment either.
Things get complicated for electric cars when it comes to charging their batteries. The UK has taken initiatives to install more battery charging ports beside the roads to help the users of electric cars. Now think of the carbon costs behind the installation of these battery points. Although this cannot be directly attributed to the carbon emission of electric cars, it sure affects the environment.
Okay, now let’s move on to the charging issue of these batteries. The power grid for charging batteries will decide if the cars are truly green or not. What if I tell you the place and time of charging batteries affect the environment differently? Let’s think about Switzerland, which is famous for its hydroelectric power grids that have less to zero effect on the environment. Charging the batteries of electric cars in Switzerland is a truly green option as the production of power maintains sustainability.
However, if we think of China, which is also the biggest user of electric cars, we might see the dark truth of charging these batteries. China produces its electricity by burning coal and fuels. So, as you can imagine, charging batteries in China means electric cars are using the power that is made by emitting a concerning level of carbon and, in the process, becoming way less green than electric cars in Switzerland. Ultimately, the only true determinant of how green electric cars are is to see how clean the power is.
Every product has a life cycle and comes to an end, no matter how green it was during its active lifetime. Electric cars have a bigger lifespan than traditional cars. They can run about 150000 miles or last 10 years. If you take proper care of the cars, they can last up to 200,000 miles lifespan also. The car gets unusable after this lifetime, yet the battery can be recycled and reused.
Tesla is the biggest manufacturer of electric cars and has been in the market for the longest time. They have reported that their batteries can have 90% capacity left after the car gets unusable, and they can retrieve 92% of the remaining materials and use them for other uses. However, for some other cars, the capacity to retrieve at the end of the lifespan can be as low as 20% too. In those cases, the materials cannot be recycled but can be used for the solar system.
So, next time you drive an electric car, be sure to weigh the cost of carbon against the benefits of transforming your traditional cars. Yes, while you drive, you have fewer carbon footprints in electric cars than in traditional cars. Electric cars have 24% of lower carbon emissions when they are used for over around 4 years to come to the equilibrium of the initial carbon footprint. But with increased population, revolutionized the industry, and higher demand for products and services, the carbon footprint is estimated to rise more in coming years. Unless the countries find a green solution to power generation soon enough, the use of electric cars cannot single-handedly save the environment. Also, what about the traditional car you cut off for a new electric car? That gets recycled, costing some more carbon in the process.
In conclusion, while electric cars are greener compared to the drastic carbon footprint of traditional cars, they contribute very little to actual environmental protection and sustainability. The only option is to lower the use of cars for personal use and introduce more public electric transportation for people. Unless people take eco-friendly behavioral actions to reduce their carbon footprint rather than material actions like buying electric cars, the problem will be far from the solution.