Are Electric Car Batteries Bad for the Environment?

Since the introduction of the first mass-produced Electric Vehicles in the 2000s, the “clean” label applied to these vehicles has been met with skepticism. Criticism of electric vehicles has focused on their production methods, battery power sources, and lack of true independence.

Electric Car Batteries Bad for the Environment

Are Electric Car Batteries Bad for the Environment?

The main concern revolves around its battery. Due to a sea of dispute and misinformation, electric vehicles’ truth is difficult to discern. The question persists, are electric car batteries bad for the environment?

The answer is somewhat debatable.

At the unveiling of the Tesla Model Y crossover electric vehicle in Hawthorne, California, Tesla Inc. co-founder and CEO Elon Musk gave a speech.

According to Musk, the reasonably priced electric crossover SUV has a lasting battery that does not harm the environment like conventional vehicles.

Also read: A Complete Guide to Electric Car Jack Kit

Processes Used in Battery Production

  • One typical criticism against electric cars’ pristine reputation is that their batteries aren’t precisely made in a pollution-free environment. The extraction and processing of the rare earth metals that go into making the battery might cause carbon dioxide emissions.
  • According to a 2018 report by the International Council for Clean Transportation (ICTT), the battery’s composition and the country of manufacture have a much more significant impact on emissions than was previously anticipated.
  • A Chinese study that compared electric cars (EVs) to internal combustion engine vehicles (ICEVs) lends credence to the ICTT report.
  • The report demonstrates that cutting emissions at every production stage begins with efficient manufacturing practices and a robust infrastructure.
  • Compared to ICEV engine makers, Chinese EV battery manufacturers produce up to 60% more CO2 during fabrication. However, these emissions might be reduced if they followed manufacturing processes used in the United States or Europe.
  • The pollution created during the extraction and production of batteries is still on par with or slightly higher than that produced by the manufacturing of gasoline or diesel-powered vehicles.
  • Electric vehicle charging in Bergen, Norway, is relatively safer. Most of the electricity in this Scandinavian country comes from hydropower, making it the cleanest place in the world to drive an electric vehicle.
  • The ICTT notes a stark difference comparing emissions produced by internal combustion and electric vehicles during their lifetimes.
  •  Since electric vehicles (EVs) don’t use combustion and don’t release any pollutants when they move, they have an environmental benefit over gasoline and diesel vehicles, which emit the vast majority of their emissions during the production and distribution of their fuel.
  • Even though emissions from ICEVs have been decreasing steadily since 2000, electric cars still have a significant advantage because they produce nearly no emissions when in operation.
  • Because of the increasing popularity of EVs and the widespread adoption of manufacturing, there will be less of a need for mining and producing new batteries.
  • Conventional internal combustion engine cars fall short in comparison to the cumulative impact of an electric vehicle. Over their lifetimes, EVs produce significantly fewer emissions than gasoline or diesel-powered vehicles.

Renewable Energy Sources

  • According to a recent study by the Center for Economic Studies (CES) in Munich, given Germany’s current energy mix and the amount of energy used in battery production, the CO2 emissions of battery-electric vehicles are, at best, slightly higher than those of a diesel engine.
  • It may seem like a damning indictment of electric car performance, but experts in the area quickly disproved the report after discovering numerous flaws.
  • Not only did the study repeat myths that have since been disproven, such as the idea that electric car batteries turn into hazardous waste after 150,000 kilometers, but it also overstated the emissions of ICEVs.
  • Dr. Markus Lienkamp, chairman of the Department of Automotive Engineering at the Technical University of Munich, criticized the research as an unscientific conspiracy.
  • Others weighed in, noting studies that found EVs were more efficient during their lifetimes while being powered by a system that relied purely on coal for energy production.
  • Carbon Brief claims electric cars in Europe and the United States cause less environmental damage than gas-powered cars.
  • Most of today’s power networks are making efforts to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and increase their use of renewable energy sources.
  •  Electric vehicles are already the cleanest form of transportation available, regardless of their energy source in terms of lifetime emissions. Automakers are also accepting that electric vehicles are cleaner and that producing more of them will help reduce carbon emissions.
Electric Car Batteries Bad the Environment

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Electric vehicles are much cleaner than their internal combustion engine counterparts. As the technology spreads, it will likely become more efficient and long-lasting.

The production of electric vehicles will benefit from economies of scale since it will allow for improved infrastructure, more efficient manufacturing processes, recycling opportunities, and a lower need for new material mining.

While electric vehicles alone won’t solve the problem of greenhouse gas emissions, they could play a role in mitigating the problem if deployed with other strategies for increasing the use of renewable energy and decarbonizing the power grid.

Production of Electric Cars

The primary difference between conventional thermal vehicles and electric vehicles is how potential (stored) energy is converted into kinetic (moving) energy.

Thermal cars store this energy chemically and then release it through a chemical reaction in the engine.

However, unlike conventional automobiles, electric vehicles store energy chemically in the form of electricity in lithium-ion batteries, which are then released electrochemically rather than by combustion.

This means there is no potential for CO2 air pollution because no fuel is burned when driving. In addition, they save more power than regular vehicles.

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C02 Emissions

Without renewable energy sources like solar panels, wind turbines, nuclear reactors, and even hydroelectric dams, the CO2 emissions from these vehicles will be much higher.

 For instance, if the electricity used to charge a car comes from a power plant that generates its electricity by burning fossil fuels, the automobiles won’t produce any pollution while driving.

Forecasts put the EU grid mix’s carbon intensity at 300 gCO2 eq/km in 2015, down to 200 gCO2 eq/km by 2030, and 80 gCO2 eq/km by 2050 for the UE28.

Nevertheless, every kilowatt-hour of energy a car consumes comes from a renewable source. If this is true, then you can say that EVs don’t contribute to pollution.

Disposing of Used Electric Vehicle Batteries

  • Where are used EV batteries disposed of? Do you know if they are recycled in an environmentally sound way?
  • According to a study conducted by the International Council for Clean Transportation, lead-acid batteries used in traditional, fossil fuel-powered automobiles are recycled at an astoundingly high rate in the United States.
  •  Because of this, the commercial viability of lithium-ion batteries—which include a particular set of chemical components and trace amounts of lithium—is low.
  • For instance, 5% of lithium in the EU market was recovered by hydrometallurgical techniques in 2011. The remaining 95% was either incinerated or dumped in landfills. This has no positive environmental impact on electric automobiles.
  • However, the more batteries there are to recycle or reclaim rare earth minerals from as the electric car market grows, the more intriguing it gets to try to figure out a solution.
  •  As a result, the environmental friendliness of electric cars is projected to increase with the development of a healthy recycling market for these batteries.
  • Alternatively, these batteries could be repurposed and given a second chance to support the electrical grid of buildings and store energy from wind or solar electricity sources.
  • There would be less of an impact on the environment from making the batteries if they were paid back over a longer time period.
Electric Car Batteries Bad Environment

Are Electric Cars Completely Emission-Free and Environmentally Friendly?

  • It’s not true that electric vehicles produce no pollution. We’ve established that they don’t emit CO2 while driving, but three other points in their life cycle might be harmful to the environment.  
  • These risks lie in the manufacturing phase, the energy generation phase, and the disposal phase.
  •  The first scenario requires energy-intensive and environmentally destructive mining activities to gather the rare earth elements needed for batteries.
  • If the power plant uses fossil fuels to generate electricity, the car still indirectly contributes to atmospheric CO2 emissions.
  • Unfortunately, battery recycling is still a costly and time-consuming procedure. The vast majority of batteries are not being recycled at this time.
  • Despite this, research is being conducted into ways to increase electric vehicles’ abundance, sustainability, and environmental friendliness.
  • Electric vehicles, as they currently stand, are already, on the whole, more environmentally helpful than conventional cars that operate on fossil fuels throughout their lives, primarily if they are fueled by clean electricity.
  •  Some countries have already come to this conclusion, and as a result, they are actively working on expanding the market for electric vehicles by offering tax incentives to make them more competitive in the marketplace.
  •  Countries like Costa Rica, Germany, and Norway are increasing their investments in renewable energy sources and setting removal deadlines for conventional cars from public roads.

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Myths Regarding Electric Vehicles

There are some myths revolving around electric vehicles. Two of the most prominent myths regarding EV batteries are as follows:

Myth No. 1

  • Electric cars aren’t as green as gas-powered cars because of power plant emissions.
  • The carbon footprint of an electric vehicle is often smaller than that of a gasoline-powered vehicle. This is true even after accounting for the electricity used for charging.
  • Electric vehicles produce no harmful emissions. On the other hand, generating electricity to charge EVs may contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.
  • The amount varies widely from place to place because of different methods used to generate electricity, with some producing carbon pollution like coal and natural gas while others, like wind and solar, do not.
  • Studies show that even when considering the GHGs produced by the energy used to power an electric vehicle, the overall GHG output is lower than that of a typical new gasoline vehicle.
  •  If more electricity were generated from renewable energy sources like wind and solar, the total greenhouse gas emissions from electric vehicles might be significantly reduced.
  •  In 2020, renewable energy surpassed natural gas as the second most popular way to generate electricity in the United States.
  • Check out the engaging Power Profiler website to learn about how electricity is generated in your area. You can know more about the local energy mix by entering your zip code.

Check out: 500 Mile Range Electric Car Battery

Myth No. 2

  • The manufacturing of batteries means that electric vehicles are less eco-friendly than gas-powered ones.
  • Even after accounting for production, an electric car’s lifetime greenhouse gas emissions are typically lower than those of a regular gasoline-powered vehicle.
  • Some studies have shown that producing a typical electric vehicle can result in higher carbon dioxide emissions than a gasoline-powered vehicle.
  • This is because more power is required to manufacture an electric vehicle’s battery. Greenhouse gas emissions from an electric car’s lifecycle while manufacturing, charging, and driving are often lower than gasoline-powered vehicles.
  •  This is because electric vehicles have zero exhaust emissions and emit far less greenhouse gas during operation.
  • Researchers at Argonne National Laboratory compared the emissions of a gas-powered car to those of a 300-mile-range electric car.
  • They found that the total greenhouse gas emissions for the electric vehicle were less than those for the gasoline-powered vehicle, despite higher emissions during production and disposal.
Electric Car Batteries Bad surroundings

Final Word

In most cases, people believe using public transport is better than driving a personal vehicle to reduce the carbon footprint. However, things are changing.

Using conventional automobiles might be a cause of reinventing the problem. New business models are being established that not revolutionize the automobile industry but also prove to be the next big step in the evolution of mobility.

The production of electric cars is a positive change. These cars are overpowering the usage of gas-induced cars because their batteries are far more environmentally-friendly.

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