We all believe that an electric vehicle is much more eco-friendlier than a conventional gasoline car.
Now the question is to be asked,
Are they that eco-friendly or that environmental promise is just a marketing strategy or are we overlooking important factors which good affect the environment in a really bad way?
That’s what we are going to find out today.
Yes, They Are Greener But…
On the surface, EVs are more ecological than gasoline cars because 70-80% of the pollution caused by automobiles comes from their tailpipe and EVs don’t have tailpipe emissions. But some say that though an electric vehicle doesn’t produce any greenhouse gases, the production of electricity required to power these cars is generated by carbon-intensive processes. In a way what they suggest is true but over the lifetime of an EV, the pollution caused this way will be less in comparison with that of a gasoline car’s tailpipe emission.
So that’s cleared up but there is one more area that has been overlooked which is the pollution involved with the supply chain of EVs.
EV Supply chain and Pollution
Almost a quarter of direct carbon dioxide emissions from burning fuel is attributed to the transportation industry and passenger cars account for around 45% of this. The pollution goes beyond tailpipe emissions. Every step in the production of vehicles requires tens of thousands of tonnes of aluminium, steel, other materials, and the production emits pollutants.
Electric vehicles were meant to be the solution to reduce the emission from the transport industry. However, while greener cars may eventually fix the tailpipe-emissions problem, they do not address all of the environmental damage caused throughout the manufacturing process.
Most importantly, when compared to typical internal combustion engine vehicles, greenhouse gases emitted during the manufacturing of battery-electric vehicles account for a larger share of life-cycle emissions. As the electric vehicle craze grows, so does battery production and research, as well as sales. According to McKinsey & Co., material emissions will increase to nearly18% to 60% by 2040.
Now let us look at some of the reasons why the production of electric vehicles put such a large dent in the environment.
The Weight Dynamics
The process of building a car begins with the extraction, refinement, transportation, and manufacturing of raw materials into various components that will be assembled to build the car. Both conventional and electric cars go through the same process. Nonetheless, electric cars produce greater carbon emissions at the end of the production process.
That is because electric vehicles have to weigh way lesser than their gasoline counterparts to increase the range of the vehicle and they use 45% more aluminium than traditional vehicles. One of the ways to tackle the weight is to use more aluminium which is lighter than steel. But mining and processing of aluminium is an energy-intensive process.
For each ton of steel produced, 2 tons of carbon is emitted and for each ton of aluminium, the worldwide average is 11.7 tons of carbon emitted, nearly six times as much. The amount of coal-powered aluminium production has more than doubled since 2005, largely because of China’s expansion into the market.
But on the other side, aluminium is lightweight, durable, corrosion-resistant, formable. Because of all of those wonderful properties, it’s used in planes, cars, trucks, buses, trains, buildings, making all of them more energy-efficient, as well as reducing greenhouse gases as a result.
Moving on to the other culprit.
EV Batteries: Are they, Greener?
Electric vehicles store energy in enormous batteries with high environmental costs (the larger the battery, the longer the range). This is because these batteries are made of rare earth elements (REEs) such as lithium, nickel, cobalt, or graphite, which are only found beneath the Earth’s surface and hence rely on harmful mining procedures.
For instance, to produce 1 ton of REE, 75 tons of acid waste (that isn’t always handled in the right way) and 1 ton of radioactive residues are also made, according to the Chinese Society of Rare Earths. Despite these pollution issues, research tells us not to worry about the availability of these rare earth elements and when it comes to lithium, there is data estimating enough worldwide reserves for the next 185 years, even if the EC market triples, according to the Deutsche Bank.
As for cobalt, graphite, and nickel, they also seem to be in a comfortable situation, since the demand for the years to come is expected to stay far away from the reserves Earth has to offer. Although it looks like everything will work out just fine, let’s not forget the negative environmental impact of extracting REEs.
Apart from the weight of the REE, the energy used to manufacture the batteries accounts for roughly half of their environmental impact, as most of this energy is not derived from low-carbon sources. Nonetheless, forecasts show that power output is rising and that additional renewable sources are joining the system, which would assist reduce the environmental impact of the batteries’ construction.
Now let us move on to the reason why we are failing to acknowledge these issues.
The Real Problem
Despite the above-discussed issues, the magnitude of supply-chain emissions is rarely discussed. If policymakers and automakers do not focus on this issue soon, they risk losing the battle with emissions standards entirely. It’s not that we weren’t aware of the dangers; it’s just that key people have effectively decided to overlook them in favor of simpler rhetoric.
Better disclosure is the best starting point for progress. We don’t have to acknowledge a problem if we don’t know how big it is. In theory, Scope 3 disclosures, which Greenpeace defines as “indirect emissions that are a result of an organization’s operations but are not owned or controlled by the company, “should be able to assist with this.
Addressing The issues
The high greenhouse gas emissions in the automobile manufacturing supply chain are “not even properly quantified by carmakers, due to poor disclosure of their suppliers’ [greenhouse gas] emissions data (Scope 3),” according to the organization “Half of the companies do not or only partially disclose this information, according to the report.
Big automakers and EV start-ups aren’t under any obligation to reveal this information. Because investors aren’t inquiring, manufacturers aren’t telling, or aren’t even aware of the situation. These figures should be included in the mandatory disclosure to determine how far progress has been made.
Once the problem is properly addressed and we have data with us, we can take practical steps on reducing carbon emissions from the EV manufacturing supply chain supply.
Here are some examples.
1. Standardize The Supply chain
From mineral procurement through manufacture to end-of-life, stringent standards must be devised and enforced across the electric car battery supply chain.
Industry, regulators, civil society, and international elements should all contribute to the development of these standards, which should cover environmental, social, and economic factors.
The Global Battery Alliance is working on a “battery passport” – a platform that will allow for traceability and secure data access, allowing for crucial circular economy acts including battery life extension, reuse, and material recovery for a new battery. The passport would permit circularity across borders and aid in the verification of human rights, as well as social and environmental standards, over the life of a battery.
2. Transparency Over Cobalt Use
The major automakers must reveal where their cobalt comes from, how it was mined and processed, and by whom. Regulators and civil society organizations would be able to detect any dangers related to cobalt production as a result of this.
Transparency’s cleansing effects would raise standards in both industrial and small-scale artisan mines, as enterprises in the automotive supply chain would be required to conduct regular checks on cobalt extraction, transportation, sale, and processing.
3. A Circular Model
There needs to be considerable consideration given to how we can produce electric vehicle batteries in a situation when essential materials are in short supply. By 2030, an estimated 11 million tonnes of wasted lithium-ion batteries would be discarded, thus they must be developed with circular economy concepts in mind.
We won’t have enough of the necessary materials to keep up with global electric vehicle demand unless we design batteries for reuse and remanufacture. Furthermore, guaranteeing that electric vehicles help us accomplish the Paris Agreement goals through the transportation and energy sectors requires building a circular economy for batteries.
We are not saying EVs are evil or cause more pollution than gasoline cars. We are just pointing out that, there are certain areas we fail to address and if we are not acknowledging these issues we may fail to meet our environmental goals and EVs will fail at their mission and we can’t stand that thought.
Collectively, we are very powerful as consumers and buyers of electric vehicles. We should use that power to address the dirty secret at the heart of the clean mobility revolution.