Electric cars, cars that run on electricity. The solution to the worries caused by pollution from the transport industry. One might not be a fool to think that it’s as simple as that. But if everything was as simple as that the world would be a paradise.
It’s true that electric cars run on electricity and are environmentally friendly. But this only when compared to gasoline cars, and not always. These are true facts, but everything has its own complexities.
In a perfect world, electric vehicles might be the perfect mode of transport, because they cause zero-emission (not really, more on that later). This means no carbon footprint, so no global warming or air pollution and for a fact even no noise pollution. But our world is a far cry from being perfect.
While electric cars have a lot of benefits, they come with their downsides too. There’s a common misconception that electric cars are clean and safe for the environment but it’s not always the case.
A product at a certain point in their lifetime can be clean and safe for the environment. But during their lifetime, they can cause pollution at other points. This applies to almost everything, and electric cars are no exception.
Let’s look at what makes electric cars bad for the environment.
Why Electric Cars are Bad for the Environment
Though Electric cars are way more safer to use than conventional cars, they still do pose some threat to the environment. Not everything about electric cars screams Eco-Friendly, yes on the long run they are but there are certain factors to consider before coming to a definite conclusion.
Electric Cars are low-emission modes of transport that guarantee you a cleaner commute. However, the manufacturing process and up-keep of these cars tend to be dangerous for the environment and the only reason many people are not talking about this is because the numbers are so low that reclassifying electric cars as vehicles that damage the environment is not feasible any time soon.
Let’s take a look at the environmental concerns around manufacture and ownership of an electric car.
Environmental Concerns of Electric Cars During their Manufacturing Process
Since electric cars produce zero-emission during running, there has to be other times during their lifetime when they are harmful to the environment. Most products or commodities cause pollution and harm right when they are being produced, because producing requires energy. And energy production causes pollution.
- This isn’t different for electric cars, producing them requires a lot of energy. Their manufacturing process is new and it involves a lot of energy. So much that the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) found the carbon footprint of producing them is 15%-68% higher than a gasoline car.
- A carbon footprint is the amount of greenhouses gases released by a process, person, organization or country. And greenhouses gases are harmful to the environment because they trap heat in the atmosphere causing global warming.
Since the carbon footprint during the production of an electric car is so high, it causes a lot of pollution. This is also because of the fact that most of the energy used during production is from fossil fuels which cause emissions.
Using cleaner sources can reduce the overall carbon footprint during the manufacturing process, this applies to electric cars too.
- During the manufacturing process, there’s a key element that causes the carbon footprint to increase so much and it’s due to the batteries. Electric cars run on electricity and the electricity required is stored in a battery inside the car. These batteries are huge and harder to manufacture compared to the ones found in a conventional car.
- A conventional car has lead-acid batteries. Electric cars use lithium-ion batteries for better performance and storage capacity. While lithium-ion batteries are better than lead-acid batteries from a technical standpoint. They fall short when it comes to manufacturing them.
- It is because of the use of rare earth materials like lithium and cobalt used to manufacture them. The extraction of these elements is hard and need a lot of energy and effort. This makes them inefficient to manufacture compared to materials found in lead-acid batteries.
- Batteries also degrade and making them unusable after a while. And disposing of these batteries is a harm for the environment because of the chemicals. These batteries are recycled or in some cases reused in other industries but this is not efficient. In fact, they are from being efficient, causing a lot of environmental concerns.
Replacing these batteries are expensive and hard to manufacture. The high environmental concern from manufacturing these batteries in the first place only adds up to a higher carbon footprint of electric cars in the future.
Tires and Brake Wear
There is a twist in the story about electric cars being zero-emission vehicles. A new study by Emission Analytics found that tires from cars are a major concern for emissions of particulate matter.
Electric cars don’t produce any tailpipe emissions because of running on electricity. But they are not exempt from particle emission though because they still need tires to run. The study also found that particle emission from brakes is a major concern.
- Emission Analytics found that emission of particulate matter from tire wear can be 1000 times high to that of tailpipe emissions. The study also noted that a family hatchback with new tires emitted 5.8 grams of particulate matter.
- While gas emissions from the same car were 4.5 milligrams making it higher by a factor of more than 1000. While this seems like a crazy thing, the particle matter may not be as destructive as the gas emissions.
- The same applies to electric cars because they run on rubber tires too. They can be worse when it comes to this type of emission because electric cars are heavier because of the humongous batteries. This results in more tire wear causing more particulate emissions.
These emissions are not as harmful as burning of fuel. But they still are a source of waste and waste always is a harmful thing. These particulate matters left out in the environment can cause harm over time.
Braking is also a cause of particulate emission in cars. Regenerative braking helps in reducing emissions from braking but it’s not nil and there is still wear in the brakes over time. This also leads to emission found by Emission Analytics. The firm suggested the remedy could be using “low emission, harder wearing” tires.
Tests done by Allianz Center for Technology Automotive(AZT Automotive) have found the components found in electric cars are well protected in the case of crashes. But in the case of a failure of these components, replacements can be costly. Production of these parts requires more energy compared to parts found in gasoline cars.
- Fire threats of electric cars is a possibility like any other electrical component.
- Lithium-ion batteries when overcharged, subjected to high temperatures or any physical damage can combust. High levels of toxic gases will be released during such an event.
- And fires of such types are harder to control given the limited knowledge about them, increasing safety and environmental threat.
Electrics cars need to be charged and fed electricity to run. This is a cause of emission and in the end harmful because of the method used to produce electricity. So, an electric car is responsible for the carbon footprint of the electricity it uses.
- If fossil fuels are the main source of electricity in a region, then the emission due to using that electricity falls on the back of electric cars.
- Almost 60% of the world is powered using fossil fuels, it only makes it obvious that electricity used by electric cars are not always clean. Apart from burning fossil fuels to get energy, extracting them causes significant emissions.
Moving to cleaner, greener sources of energy like solar, nuclear to an extent, wind and tidal energy can diminish this disadvantage. Just because the future is bright doesn’t mean we can’t ignore the fact that there’s a problem now.
In general, electric cars are better than gasoline cars. But electric cars are still an active source of pollution and a carbon footprint factory. They have safety issues that can cause a lot of harm if something goes wrong. They are still in the developing stages, and everything that is trying to grow has some form of teething issues.
Conventional cars have reduced emissions and pollution over the years. This is because of better engineering and manufacturing processes. Similarly, electric cars can only get better with time. As of now, even though they are generally better the lean heavily to the region they are produced and used to take full advantage. They still pose harm to the environment and have their own disadvantages.
While people shift to electric cars for the future, spreading knowledge about their shortcomings and shedding light on them is a necessary concern. Making the best decision involves research and knowledge of something. Electric cars are better than gasoline cars except in some scenarios. Scenarios like when production rests on using fossil fuel energy.
They are still not the most environment-friendly method to travel. To tackle the problem posed by electric cars, bicycles, public transport like buses, carpooling or even walking are better alternatives.