Electric Vehicles

By Eesha Hajare, GCC 3011 student

With the rise in global climate crises and increase in carbon emissions, transitioning to electric vehicles is seen as a green solution to the problem. On the first glance, electric vehicles have zero carbon emissions compared to internal combustion engine driven vehicles. However, when you look at the bigger picture the difference in overall carbon emissions is small. 

Even though on the front picture electric vehicles come off with zero carbon emissions, the manufacturing processes as well as power sources for EVs raises a question against this claim. At the end of conventional manufacturing processes, EVs end up causing more environmental pollution due to the use of lithium-ion batteries in EVs.  The part of the problem begins from the manufacturing processes used in making these Li-ion batteries. Currently, the mining activities as well as extraction procedures involved in extracting the metals used in Li-ion batteries produce 75 tons of acid waste as well as radioactive waste. Moreover, the mining activities take place in regions of abundant metals which are usually drought prone areas, since the processes utilise a lot of natural resources are exhausted due to the manufacturing of Li-ion batteries. Second concern arises after the Li batteries are used up by these cars. The disposal process for Li-batteries creates hazardous environmental waste as well as consumes a lot of energy. 

Similarly, as summarised by the New York Times, a large discussion of whether EVs are eco-friendly depends on the country’s power grid for electricity generation.  If an EV is being charged during the day, a large amount of electricity is being generated using renewable sources like wind or solar. But most EV users charge their cars at night, a large amount of electricity that is generated at night comes from burning fossil fuels. If EVs are charged at night, the carbon emissions are not much different than that of a traditional car since electricity used to charge the car is largely coming from fossil fuels itself. Currently, in the United States 60.8% of the grids utilize fossil fuels for electricity generation, and the current policies are pushing for a cleaner grid. This can look promising for the future of electric vehicles for the planet. However, in other countries where the electric grid is not so clean, a future with electric vehicles can look more threatening to the planet than traditional cars.

So, what is the solution to this dilemma? What can be done to improve the carbon footprint associated with EVs? One solution can be to recycle the used-up batteries. However, this is easier said than done. Recycling of batteries is currently expensive and generates hazardous waste. An alternative to this is suggested by the Wallbox blog. Introducing bidirectional charging in EV batteries can help by utilizing used up batteries for renewable energy storage. These leveraged batteries can support the power grid as well during peak demands and overall maximize the use of renewable energy. Another aspect to the solution can be cleaning up the power grid and maximizing renewable energy utilisation for electricity generation which will in turn improve the carbon footprint for EVs.

References:

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/02/climate/electric-vehicles-environment.html

https://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.php?id=427&t=3

https://blog.wallbox.com/en-usa/9-leading-ev-influencers-discuss-the-innovations-that-will-shape-the-future-of-electric-cars/

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