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Rev up for a revolution in transportation! The age-old debate of gasoline versus electricity is back on the table with a new twist – the impact on our environment. Are electric automobiles more environmentally friendly than conventional automobiles? Join us as we explore the pros and cons and get charged up for a greener future!
The fundamental difference between conventional and electric automobiles lies in the way they transform stored potential energy into kinetic energy. Kinetic energy allows the movement of the vehicle. Conventional cars store this energy in the form of chemicals (fuel) and release it through chemical reactions inside the engine. The chemical reactions cause the combustion of power inside the engine. Combustion is what allows the car to move.
Electric cars that also have chemically stored energy release energy electrochemically. This means that they release energy without combusting the chemicals. They do not combust fuel because electric cars contain lithium-ion batteries. Because they don’t burn fuel, they don’t emit carbon dioxide emissions while you drive. Electric automobiles are more efficient than conventional automobiles. Does this mean that electric vehicles are a greener option?
Electric automobiles are not always more environmentally friendly than conventional automobiles. It all depends on the source of the energy that powers electric cars. Suppose the electricity used to charge electric vehicles comes from burning fossil fuels. In that case, carbon emissions of electric cars could be much higher than or the same as those of conventional vehicles. To be an environmentally friendly vehicle, the electricity used to charge electric cars must come from renewable sources like solar, wind, or hydroelectric energy.
In the United States, fossil fuels account for around 61% of the country’s electricity production. That means if you’re driving an electric vehicle in the US, you’re most probably releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Iceland, however, almost entirely produces electricity from geothermal, hydroelectric, and solar energy. Therefore, driving an electric car in Iceland is more eco-friendly than driving the same vehicle in the US.
To start the process of producing an electric vehicle, we need first to extract, refine, and transport raw materials to manufacturers. The manufacturers will assemble the raw material into several components to produce the car. The process of building a car is pretty much the same whether the vehicle is an electric or conventional one. However, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, the manufacturing process of electric cars releases more carbon emissions than traditional cars.
Electric cars contain batteries that store energy and allow the vehicle to run. The batteries in electric cars have high environmental costs. These batteries contain Rare Earth Elements (REEs) like lithium, cobalt, and nickel. REEs occur below the Earth’s surface. Therefore, we depend on mining activities to obtain these elements. Mining is a very polluting activity.
While obtaining REEs, mining activities also produce acid and radioactive waste. These types of waste are incredibly damaging to the environment. Even with so much pollution associated with it, scientists tell us not to worry about the abundance of REEs. Research indicates that the Earth has enough lithium reserves to support the world for the next 185 years, even in the event that electric vehicle production triples.
Apart from the environmental impacts of obtaining REEs, even batteries’ production negatively impacts the environment. Most of the energy used to produce the batteries does not come from low-carbon sources. Nevertheless, emerging data show that more renewable sources are powering energy grids. The increase in renewable energy sources will reduce the ecological impact of producing batteries. But what happens when the battery reaches the end of its life cycle? Are they recycled in an eco-friendly way? How batteries are handled when we can no longer use them in cars also plays a significant role in deciding whether electric automobiles are more environmentally friendly than conventional automobiles.
The US recycles 99% of global lead-acid batteries. Lead-acid batteries are the ones used in conventional, fossil fuel-powered cars. Lithium-ion batteries contain a mix of chemical components. Because of their chemical content, recycling them does not pose an exciting market opportunity. It is not as easy to recycle lithium-ion batteries as it is to recycle lead-acid batteries. For example, recycling markets in the EU collected only 5% lithium from the batteries. Companies incinerate a vast majority of the batteries or dump them in landfills. The way we dispose of the batteries makes electric vehicles less of a green option.
However, there is a growing industry trying to recapture REEs from the batteries. The longer electric vehicles stay on the market, the more time it gives researchers to figure out an effective way of recycling them. The development of methods to recycle batteries will make electric cars greener.
Another solution is to reuse the batteries. We can give these batteries a second life by using them to power the electric grids of buildings. We can even use them to store energy from solar and wind sources. Using them in this way will offset the environmental impact of producing them in the first place.
We can conclude by saying no; electric vehicles are not entirely zero-emission vehicles. We’ve learned that although electric cars do not emit carbon dioxide while in motion, their manufacture and charging processes and the way we dispose of their batteries, in the end, have a substantial environmental impact. The mining required to obtain the REEs for the batteries consumes a lot of energy and creates pollution.
But yes, they are more environmentally friendly than conventional vehicles. Companies and businesses are trying to develop innovative ways to make electric cars more greener, eco-friendly, and sustainable. Electric automobiles are more eco-friendly than conventional automobiles, especially when powered with clean energy. Many countries have realized this. Governments are encouraging the growth of the electric vehicle market by introducing economic policies that promote their sales and purchases. Countries like Norway and Germany have set deadlines to end the use of conventional vehicles.
Conventional automobiles release carbon emissions at every stage, from production to operation to disposal. Electric may only release emissions during its production and operation stages. It does not emit carbon dioxide while you drive it. Also, if you can manage to power it with clean electricity, you can cut down on even more emissions. So, yes, overall, electric automobiles are more environmentally friendly than conventional automobiles.