The proliferation of electric cars brought with it a set of opinions, mostly championed by internal combustion engine (ICE) stalwarts. A large percentage of these opinions, while having some basis in science, are often biased and taken out of context. Let’s take a look at some of the most common misunderstandings about EVs and see if we can find a more objective point of view!
Are EVs 100% Green or more polluting than ICE vehicles?
2022 proved to be an interesting year when it came to energy issues. The war between Russia and the Ukraine skyrocketed energy prices, especially in Europe, as Russia was, and still is, a big supplier of oil and natural gas to the region.
With many countries now trying to cut ties with Russia, some temporary measures were required. Some countries started their preparations by restarting nuclear power plants, while others reopened previously mothballed coal plants to ensure the availability of energy for an entire continent.
This made lots of people point out what they consider to be the biggest contradiction when it comes to electric vehicles. According to them, an EV can only be as green as the energy pumped into it, essentially equaling EV use to burning coal.
While there is some partial truth to that, it is important to point out that EVs, at worst, remove pollution from areas where it causes the biggest problems: downtown areas and big cities. Traffic related air and noise pollution is a huge problem in big cities. The European Union conducted research last year that looked at the healthcare costs of pollution emitting ICE-vehicles, most notably diesels. The result is staggering; according to the European Public Health Alliance removing diesel vehicles from European roads would save about 45 billion euros in healthcare and environmental protection costs.
Also, let’s not forget, that EVs represent a fairly new technology, the first mass produced electric car, the Nissan Leaf was introduced in 2011. This means some serious infrastructure – chargers, energy storage, as well as renewable capacities – is still missing, and once it is in place, EV usage will leave its fossil fuel footprint behind in the dust, where it belongs.
Carbon and ecological footprints both favor EVs, despite the opinions
Skeptics like to point out that EVs have large batteries that use lithium and cobalt, the mining of which results in heavy pollution. While that is certainly true, some context is needed here as well. An average EV needs roughly 5-10 kilograms of lithium and about 6-12 kilograms of cobalt. While mining practices in the past have been problematic, the emergence of new technologies, as well as ethical mining practices, is making the extraction of such materials more sustainable. Additionally, dynamically evolving battery technology could see the arrival of reduced or lithium-free units, the innovation of which is evolving alongside the development of more easily accessible sources, and less polluting extraction practices.
That said, even with all the battery-manufacturing required for EVs, the lifecycle of electric cars is far less polluting than that of ICE vehicles. Researchers at the Yale School of the Environment published new research at the end of 2021, in which they investigated the environmental impact of car manufacturing. Their calculations also included indirect emissions, that is, all the environmental impact of the various manufacturing processes as well as the carbon footprint of fuel and energy production.
The results speak for themselves: even with lithium mining and the use of electricity produced in coal plants, the manufacture and entire lifecycle use of EVs is far less polluting than that of internal combustion vehicles. The entire supply chain of the latter is so rife with pollution that they never can match up to EVs.
What about the tires?
One, often overlooked, source of vehicle pollution is the tires. Made from synthetic rubber, the tires release tiny particles – a kind of microplastic – that float through the air, get inhaled by living organisms as well as polluting soil, rivers, and lakes. This is a significant problem when it comes to EVs, as due to their large batteries, these kind of cars are usually heavier than traditional ICE vehicles. This means more friction for the tires that results in more particles being released.
According to a recent study, tire pollution can be even worse than that of ICE exhausts, so this is an issue that needs an urgent solution. The good news is that tire manufacturers are already tackling the problem, with Goodyear introducing its first tire that was specifically designed for electric vehicles. The more durable material extends the range of the vehicle, while at the same time releases fewer particles during use.
To sum it up: while significant investment is still needed to reinforce electrical grids to enable them to support the mass adoption of EVs, the technology itself promises a cleaner and more sustainable future. While ICE cars are here to stay for the near future, EVs represent the natural evolution of a more than century old technology, that millions across the world use for their daily commute.
With EV’s, it’s time to get onboard.