New Energy Vehicles: Are They Really Environmentally Friendly?
- Issue Time
Electric cars are going mainstream, but does that mean they're better for the environment? According to experts, yes. Read on for more details.
New energy vehicles are designed to be environmentally friendly alternatives to gasoline-powered cars. This has led global leaders and automakers to adopt new energy vehicles as part of their carbon reduction strategies.
GM has even gone so far as to sell only electric cars and light trucks by 2035, and completely transition its car manufacturing to battery-powered designs. Volvo is another automaker that plans to switch to all-electric new car sales by 2030.
However, no industry has an environmental footprint.
Some have raised legitimate concerns that mining rare earth minerals for new energy vehicle batteries could put biodiversity areas at risk. Others pointed out that we don't have a cost-effective way to recycle EV batteries.
Does this mean electric cars are worse than regular cars? Experts say no, but they do have some important environmental pitfalls to address.
Read on to learn about their environmental impact, solutions, and popular myths about electric vehicles.
Are new energy vehicles more environmentally friendly than fossil fuel-powered vehicles?
We know that the tailpipes of electric cars do not emit carbon dioxide because there is no fuel to burn. That said, they still need electricity. Currently, most of the electricity in the United States (about 60%) still comes from fossil fuels.
To get the full picture, you have to compare the way fossil fuels are burned when charging an electric car with the amount burned when driving an ICE car. This varies by region.
This varies from country to country as well as from state to state. Driving or charging an electric car in Iceland, for example, emits almost no emissions because the energy there is mainly renewable: wind, solar, geothermal, and hydro.
In the US, only 79% of Maine's electricity in 2020 will come from non-fossil fuels, while only 32% of Texas' electricity will come from wind, solar and nuclear. Texas, on the other hand, has more solar installed than any other state, so the mix may improve over time.
These issues make it necessary to compare the environmental footprint of electric vehicles in current and future forecasts.
So what is the final verdict? According to the EPA, EVs still have a smaller carbon footprint than gasoline-powered vehicles, even taking into account the greenhouse gas emissions from charging.
Another key factor in the sustainability of electric vehicles is their manufacturing practices. As with all vehicles, raw materials are required to produce a new electric vehicle. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, the manufacture of electric vehicles emits more carbon emissions.
Unlike gas-powered vehicles, which use common metals and materials in their engines, most electric vehicles use rare earth elements (REEs) such as lithium, nickel, cobalt, and graphite. Mining these elements requires carbon-intensive practices.
Another concern is the environmental trade-offs associated with mining these REE materials. About 60% of cobalt reserves are located in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where tropical rainforests with rich biodiversity grow. Mining in these areas could threaten biodiversity.
Besides mining, half of the environmental impact of electric vehicles comes from the production of batteries. However, this manufacturing process may shift to rely on more renewable energy in the future.
Given the difficult trade-offs facing the extraction of all raw materials, it is also important to consider alternatives: there are also many remaining oil reserves in protected areas.
However, for direct comparison, the environmental impact of EVs improves over the life of the vehicle compared to conventional cars. Breakeven is around 6 to 16 months in the US and 2 years in the EU.
Consumer Reports suggest that EV batteries can last up to 17 years or 200,000 miles. The average lifespan of a conventional car is 12 years. This practice of measuring and comparing life cycle emissions is an important environmental comparison strategy known as life cycle analysis.
All in all, assuming no changes in manufacturing or battery technology, an EV with a useful lifespan of about 10-15 years will have a better carbon footprint than a conventional car charged with clean energy.
However, the end of battery life presents another ecological challenge.
What about the batteries of new energy vehicles? Are they recycled?
The United States has made impressive progress in recycling 99 percent of lead-acid car batteries. These are found in conventional cars.
However, recycling lithium-ion batteries is an underdeveloped area. Lithium is extremely low in batteries and difficult to recycle. In the EU, only 10% of the lithium in batteries is recycled.
As the electric vehicle market grows, more companies are showing interest in solving the mystery of battery recycling. Innovative companies are exploring solutions, such as mining their REE content or repurposing them for renewable energy storage.
The recycling and reuse of obsolete EV batteries is a promising area to offset the environmental impact of manufacturing batteries by extending their lifespan.
The above introduces the environmental protection issues of new energy vehicles. If you want to buy new energy vehicles, please contact us.
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