Over the past few decades, more has been done to reverse the effects of climate change. And the arrival of electric cars on the scene provided a solution to the negative environmental impact of traditional vehicles.
It seems evident that an electric car would be better for the planet than conventional petrol or diesel. They don’t have exhausts and don’t emit greenhouse gasses as you drive.
But is it all too good to be true? Are electric cars better for the environment?
Fewer Greenhouse emissions
First up is the whole reason for the introduction of electric cars into the mainstream market. The concern over greenhouse gas emissions and their contribution to global warming is a war raging for many years.
The electric car has no tailpipe emissions, helping combat the issue. Multiple studies have shown that electric vehicles are more efficient, need less energy, and are therefore responsible for fewer greenhouse gasses and emissions than cars powered solely by internal combustion engines.
Although an electric car will produce some degree of pollution from tyre and brake particles, research is already taking place to eliminate this challenge.
What about the environmental effects of building the car?
One argument that comes up when debating how green electric cars are is the pollution produced by manufacturing them. In particular, their batteries.
The emissions created during the production of an electric car are higher than a conventional car, mainly due to the heavy lithium-ion batteries. Batteries are composed of a range of rare-earth metals, the extraction and manipulation of which all contribute to carbon emissions.
Improved energy production techniques are already being rolled out, and battery technology becoming more advanced and less reliant on the current raw materials.
Many of the newest models even have interiors made from recyclable materials from the doors to the dash. BMW has stated that a quarter of the interior of the i3 is made of recycled plastics and renewable materials, and 95% of the car is recyclable.
All this aside, though, it’s important to remember that a vehicle’s manufacturing forms only a tiny part of its lifecycle. If you look at lifetime emissions overall, the electric car wins hands down over its diesel and petrol counterparts – even when you include manufacturing.
How recyclable are electric car batteries?
As the number of electric cars across the globe continues to soar, the question emerges – what will happen to all the used batteries?
The problem is, it’s not as easy as something like paper recycling. Heavier, larger and made up of several hundred lithium-ion cells, the battery in an electric car needs to be dismantled before it can be recycled at all.
It’s a hot topic now, but the good news is that it’s one that manufacturers themselves are taking responsibility for. Of late, Volkswagen has opened its first recycling plant, and Renault and Nissan have also pledged to recycle all of their electric car batteries.
Developments in battery component extraction also mean processing at special recycling centres can extract 98% of battery materials for recycling or reuse.
Ongoing research is looking at ways to reuse batteries in new technologies. One example of this is repurposing them for energy storage. Old electric car batteries are being put to work storing the energy generated from solar panels and keeping electricity costs down.
Don’t electric cars emit particles into the air?
So the theory goes that while electric cars do not emit any tailpipe emissions, they’re still polluting our atmosphere by throwing small particle pollution into the air from tyres, brake discs and throwing up dust from the road.
The fact is, so do conventional cars. When it comes to brake dust, electric vehicles have far less due to regenerative braking (recharges the battery when they slow down). They create far less brake dust.
However, heavier cars and vehicles will indeed put more particles into the air because of their weight. While this is even more so the case with heavy lorries and trade vehicles, the future is looking better for electric cars as they are getting lighter as battery technology advances.
What about the electricity used to power the cars?
It stands to reason that electric cars need electricity to fuel them. So how green is that?
In the UK, the move toward renewable energy is surging ahead. Nearly half of the UK’s total energy supply now comes from wind power. Our collective electricity carbon footprint is falling. As more of our electricity comes from renewable sources, an electric car battery can store this green energy rather than let it go to waste.
There is also new grid technology that can see electric cars return electricity to the National Grid when there is high demand, negating the need to turn on power plants.
Are electric cars better for the environment?
All the evidence adds up to the answer – yes, they are. Electric cars are already making their mark in improving air quality across towns and cities. As they produce zero carbon dioxide, air pollution is significantly reduced, giving us a cleaner world to live and breathe in.
While they may not be 100% green yet, they’re still miles apart from conventional vehicles, and while research and clean energy production reach a turning point, the newcomer to the mainstream market is only going to get greener.
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