••• The International Writers Magazine - 24 Years on-line - EV Life
Is The Future of the Car Sustainable, Or Is It Already Too Late?
You can’t drive far without encountering a Tesla at a stop sign or a Prius gliding along the interstate. The electric car industry has boomed in the past decade, as current predictions estimate that 2,131,400 electric cars will be sold annually in the U.S. by 2027.
The appeal of electric cars is largely down to their promise of carbon reduction and tactful marketing. Brands like Tesla have successfully positioned themselves as luxury car makers and even gas-guzzlers like Ford now offer an electric alternative.
But is the hubbub around electric vehicles (EVs) too little too late? Have we waited too long to start the slow conversion to electric, and can the nation’s infrastructure stand up to the demand for EVs?
Electric Car’s Carbon Cost
Alfa Romeo EV 2023
Detractors of the EV industry are quick to point out that generating electricity still requires unrenewable energy to be burnt. Following this logic, critics of EVs claim that car manufacturers like Teslas and Nissan (another major adopter of EVs) are simply putting another step between filling up and burning carbon.
Recent research from Reuters agrees — in part — with critics’ concerns about the EV industry. EVs have a higher carbon cost when they come off the forecourt and glide silently onto the highway. That’s because 23% of the U.S.’s electricity is generated by coal-firing plants. Creating the batteries that power EVs also require a massive amount of energy, as the battery engines are complex and require precious materials.
However, after driving a Tesla for 13,500 miles, drivers will “break even” and benefit from lower carbon production than similar saloon cars. This should take most drivers little time to accomplish, considering that the average commuter drives over 18,000 miles per year.
EVs are also set to become more carbon-efficient as investment in renewable energy grows. Countries like Norway already source much of their energy from renewable sources, meaning that the break-even point for a Norwegian driver comes 5,000 miles sooner.
Clearly, EVs are more sustainable over their lifetime compared to petrol or diesel models. But what about other forms of renewable fuel?
EVs grab all the headlines when it comes to renewable transport. Major car manufacturers are practically falling over themselves in an attempt to release electric models and gain plaudits from eco-conscious consumers. However, battery engines aren’t the only option for drivers that want to reduce their carbon emissions.
Hydrogen Fuel Cells
Biofuels like ethanol garner little attention but show great promise. Data collected by the Renewable Fuels Association show that pickup trucks using a blend of 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline have far lower carbon emissions than EV alternatives which run on “fossil-generated electricity.” Advocates of ethanol also point out that ethanol-based fuels would sustain agricultural farming and provide jobs in rural areas.
It’s important to read between the lines before jumping onto the ethanol bandwagon. Ethanol engines may be more carbon efficient than EVs that run exclusively on “fossil-generated electricity,” but EVs do not run on fossil-generated electricity alone. As the Reuters report pointed out, only 23% of the U.S.’s electricity comes from coal plants and more renewable electricity production methods are being developed.
Backers of hydrogen are also enthusiastic about the possibility of replacing gasoline. Hydrogen has long been used in rocket fuel and many believe that hydrogen will replace fossil fuels. Hydrogen engines work by pumping hydrogen into the vehicle and storing it in a carbon-fiber-reinforced fuel tank. However, we’re some time away from developing engines that can safely store and utilize hydrogen in vehicles.
So far, EVs seem to be a step ahead of competitors in terms of reliability and carbon efficiency. However, EVs still need to be incorporated into our infrastructure and recycled properly at the end of their lifespan.
Mining and Recycling
VW EV Combi
The batteries that generate power for EVs are made from a blend of materials. The Li-ion batteries alone are made from nickel, cobalt, aluminum, lithium, copper, insulation, and thermal interface materials. The cells housed within the battery engines are made from even more complex materials.
The demand for EVs has created a global “volt rush” that has exacerbated global inequality and caused ecological damage in countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo. (Plus the use of child labor to extract it) More stringent legislation is needed to bring balance back to the mining of scarce materials and greater effort must be made to close the supply-chain loop.
Fortunately, EV batteries can be recycled. Specialized facilities are well-equipped to extract the precious materials housed within the batteries and the precious cells within. This is good news for the environment and investors alike. Successfully recycling batteries keeps them out of landfills and can be a real boon for venture capitalists.
Speculative investors like Tesla’s former chief technology officer, JB Straubel, are getting ready for the electric switchover. In 2017, Straubel set up Redwood Materials — a company designed to recycle lithium-ion batteries — in anticipation of EVs coming to the end of their warranty period. The company is now valued at over $3 billion and is poised to become a major player in EV supply chains.
Morgan EV UK
EVs are more carbon efficient than gas guzzlers and can be recycled with less harm to the environment than petrol-engine options. However, EVs will only be adopted by the mainstream public if the infrastructure is in place to charge and repair all makes and models of EVs.
Charging an EV takes time. Even “ultra-fast” charging stations in DC take 15 to 20 minutes to fully charge an electric engine. Most commuters can hardly afford the time to pull over to fill up with gas and may be hesitant to switch to electric lest they be caught out with low charges during the work week.
Fortunately, EVs can be charged while parked at home, too. Charging ports need to be installed at the driver’s home, but many states and governments offer driver’s grants to reduce the cost of installation and maintenance.
The future of transport is changing rapidly and EVs are leading the way. Compared to petrol engines, battery-powered cars are more carbon efficient and can be part of a closed-supply chain with minimal waste. Stricter legislation is required to stop international exploitation and environmental degradation, but the future of the car industry is undeniably more sustainable thanks to infrastructural innovation and EVs.
© Indiana Lee 1.10.23
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