Electric Vehicles: Better for the Environment?

We see so much about electric vehicles and emissions lately, but are electric vehicles really worth all the applause? It’s been ten years since the Nissan Leaf EV rolled out, and a lot of the technology is much more advanced now in 2022. The question still hasn’t really been clearly answered; Are EVs better for the environment than a car or even a diesel truck? What goes into the making, upkeep, and retirement of the EV? Below are a few facts that will help you decide for yourself if trading in your vehicle for an EV is really worth it.

FACTS

  • Diesel vehicles create 20% less CO2 than gasoline-powered automobiles.
  • Charging stations can be tough to find but that should change as more people choose EVs to drive.
  • Charging time can take a long time to reach a full charge. Some charging stations can get to 80% charge in 20 minutes but the remainder will go very slowly.
  • The cost of an EV is much higher than a fuel-powered vehicle.
  • The maintenance cost of an EV is much lower than a fuel-dependent car would be. No oil changes, no leaks, no exhaust but you will be changing out electrical components.
  • Most EVs come with a 10-year or 100,000-mile warranty on the battery.
  • It can be expensive to own your own charging station and impossible if you live in an apartment or rent.
  • Electric vehicles will not last 20 or 30 years like fuel-run vehicles. Once the battery is dead or electrical components burn out, the car is useless unless fixed. At that amount of money, it’s easier just to get a new EV. That will create a lot more waste unless they come up with a cheaper battery swap out.
  • Many states offer tax credits of up to $7,500 when you switch to an EV.
  • The materials used to make the EV’s battery are not good for the environment. From the power plant creating the batteries to mining for lithium, there is nothing sustainable or environmentally friendly about it. Just a different kind of bad guy.
  • Some countries like Germany have already tossed out diesel vehicles altogether and made them illegal.
  • Portugal is being targeted for possible lithium mining which will hurt the environment and also, cripple tourism in the affected areas. Currently, most lithium comes from Australia.
  • EVs could cause worry in cold areas where batteries are not able to be fully charged and the time to charge may be too long to wait.
  • Without the tax money that each state makes on a gallon of gasoline, the roads may not be maintained due to a lack of funds. This means there will probably be a per-mile charge for driving your car.

Let’s Talk About Lithium Mining

This is the biggest question that everyone has regarding the footprint or environmental safety of new electric vehicles. Why switch from your trusty old pickup truck to something that is going to be even worse for the environment? White Oil is just as bad for our world as oil aka black gold. Can you imagine the future protestors holding signs about white oil? It’s already happening in some countries affected by the zoning for mining lithium.

In 2021, China dominated the global EV and EV supply-chain market, but global governments are vying to secure their own supply chains. When it comes to the components that make up these batteries, they can be traced back to several specific countries. Half of the world’s cobalt originates from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Indonesia, Australia, and Brazil make up the lion’s share of global nickel reserves, and South America’s ‘Lithium Triangle’ consisting of Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina holds 75% of the world’s lithium.

At the moment, recycling makes up a small portion of EV batteries, but the industry is confident that once the market matures, recycled materials will have an important impact on the manufacturing process. As David Castelvecchi writes for Nature.com, “Battery and carmakers are already spending billions of dollars on reducing the costs of manufacturing and recycling electric-vehicle (EV) batteries. National research funders have also founded centers to study better ways to make and recycle batteries. A key goal is to develop processes to recover valuable metals cheaply enough to compete with freshly mined ones.”

What about the Environmental Impact of Lithium Batteries?

Shifting away from petrol and diesel is not the only concern. Manufacturing any car—electric or otherwise—causes carbon emissions, be it from the coal used to smelt the steel for its bodywork or the diesel oil burned when shipping its electronic components across oceans. The extra materials and energy involved in manufacturing a lithium-ion battery mean that, at present, the carbon emissions associated with producing an electric car are higher than those for a vehicle running on petrol or diesel – by as much as 38%, according to some calculations. Until the electricity in national grids is entirely renewable, recharging the battery will involve a degree of dependence on coal or gas-fired power stations.

Lithium-ion EV car batteries cause water, soil, and air pollution. In addition to using a great deal of water, lithium mining causes water, soil, and air pollution. Toxic chemicals like hydrochloric acid used in the mining process can leak from evaporation pools and contaminate the surrounding area.

The Lithium Triangle in South America, which includes portions of Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina, contains more than half of the world’s supply of lithium. The region is also very dry. In Chile’s Salar de Atacama, lithium mining consumes 65% of the region’s water. The problem is so bad that farmers and other people in the local communities have to get water elsewhere. Mining lithium takes enormous amounts of fresh water and the communities where lithium is found are among the driest places on earth. This can and will cause problems for people in those communities. The United Nations also declared that “having a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment is a human right.” Lithium and cobalt mining violate this human right by causing water, air, and soil contamination. 

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) holds more than half of the world’s reserves of cobalt. In the DRC, cobalt mining heavily uses child labor, which is another violation of human rights. Also, many of the cobalt miners in the DRC lack the necessary protective equipment. Furthermore, as detailed by the Washington Post, the contamination from cobalt mining resulted in health ailments for people in the surrounding communities, such as birth defects and breathing problems. 

Conclusion

As you can see, the comparison between gas, diesel, and electric vehicles is composed of a big grey area of what-ifs. There is a great benefit to having an electric car that uses recycled lithium/cobalt batteries, can be quickly charged in bad weather from nearby charging stations (which they should put in at every gas station), and won’t cost so much. That is not yet a reality. It is important to get our emissions down to help our environment, but we need a lot more research before this EV ownership gets fully off the ground. Right now, owning an EV isn’t much more than a status symbol, similar to what happened with the Prius when it first came out. We have to start somewhere with the evolution of travel and often times the beginning of anything can be rocky. In time, I think we’ll see more sustainable mining, recycled materials, and more convenient charging stations. For now, I will say that riding a bike or walking is the only true environmentally friendly way to travel. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.