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Can electric vehicles save the overall environment?

  • Mallika Rangaiah
  • Mar 03, 2020
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Electric vehicles (EV) and their production have recently emerged as the latest trend in the automobile industry with various acclaimed and known automobile companies such as Tesla, Nissan, Chevrolet, Hyundai, Kia and many more plummeting straight onto the bandwagon. Even luxury brands like Audi, Porsche as well as BMW have embraced the trend and have positioned electric models on sale recently. 


Considering the growing preference for electric vehicles, can it be a possibility that in a few decades gas or diesel-powered vehicles could become an extinct tale?


Now, what exactly is an electric car and why are they becoming so popular?


Electric Cars are driven by an electric motor rather than being fueled by gasoline. The electric motor retrieves its energy via a controller that regulates the degree of power depending on the driver’s accelerator pedal use. The electric cars are powered by rechargeable batteries. These batteries can also be used for performing other functions like the functioning of the lights and wipers. 


Conventional vehicles, on the other hand, are fueled by gasoline or diesel-powered engines. Electric vehicles, however, are not all the same. The “plug-in hybrid” vehicles are ones that offer both gasoline or diesel engine while also offering an electric motor. While other electric vehicles completely forsake liquid fuels and operate solely on electricity. These are “battery-electric” vehicles. Some EVs, namely “hydrogen fuel cell” vehicles power electric motors by the conversion of hydrogen gas into electricity. 



Electric Vehicles as an asset for the environment


Some aspects that make electric vehicles an asset for the environment.

How Electric Vehicles are an asset for the environment


A debate has emerged among the automobile world, regarding how favourable an asset the electric vehicles actually are for the environment and whether they are veritably benefiting the environment at the cost of their incurred prices. So let’s highlight some of the crucial benefits the electric vehicles have to offer. 


Zero tailpipe emissions


The biggest factor making electric vehicles an asset is that EV’s that run on electricity emit zero tailpipes (direct) emissions. The emissions from driving electric are far less from the ones incurred by driving petrol or diesel.


With EVs getting more prevalent and their manufacturing more widespread, battery recycling has the scope of getting more efficient and reducing the need for extraction of new materials, thus reducing the dependency on mining and production of new batteries.


EVs generate considerably lower emissions over their lifetime than vehicles running on fossil fuels, irrespective of the source that generates the electricity.


This becomes extremely advantageous when we factor in how the lower emissions are saving the pedestrians and the locality from breathing in poisonous gases. This makes EV’s much more eco-friendly compared to the conventional gasoline-powered vehicles crowding the market today.


Cleaner CO2 emission


Tailpipe emissions have a direct and dire impact on the air quality of their locality. The CO2 emissions of electric vehicles, however, are much cleaner compared to the emissions from the most eco-friendly petrol engines. As per the U.S. Department of Energy, fully electric vehicles emit an average of 4,450 pounds of CO2 each year while conventional cars emit over twice as much annually.


Fewer Particulates


The ICE vehicles, even the new ones, emit large amounts of health harmful particle pollution. The emission of these particles can have various grave health consequences, which include asthma, heart attacks and cancer and many other diseases. The electric vehicles meanwhile are not directly emitting these particulates into the street air. 


Curtailing Noise Pollution


Electric motors are generally very quiet, particularly in comparison with the ICE vehicles and their exhaust systems and thus generate less noise pollution. While gas and diesel vehicles may be incorporated with muffling devices to curb the noise the mufflers are often noisier than their stock counterparts. 


Energy Efficiency


As per fuel economy, Electric vehicles convert over 77% of the electrical energy from the grid to power at the wheels. Conventional gasoline vehicles meanwhile, only convert about 12%–30% of the energy stored in gasoline to power at the wheels. Thus Electric Vehicles contribute towards less energy-loss as compared to gas-powered engines. 


Electric cars, having fewer parts to funnel energy through, undergo less energy conversion. This results in less energy loss compared to gas-powered engines. The electric car brakes have regenerative braking as opposed to ICE cars. This allows the car to charge the battery while braking as the car runs on a generator which helps it to renew some wasted energy back into the battery as opposed to using a brake pad which converts friction into heat. 


Night charging leads to cleaner energy


With the overall energy consumption being lower in the nights, it’s the time when the wind generation is most eminent in the energy mix. Thus charging during the nights leads to electric vehicles assisting in the devouring of better amounts of renewables. Alongside this, it also serves as a safeguard for stabilising the electricity system. 



Challenges faced by Electric Vehicles


In a recent discussion over an interview with tech YouTuber Marques 'MKBHD' Brownlee, the Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates had unfolded his views regarding the trend of electric cars while also mentioning some of the challenges that behold them.

Talking Tech and 2020 with Bill Gates!

When it comes to being dubious regarding the future of Electric vehicles, Bill Gates is not alone. There are various challenges to be overcome for the vehicle to become an asset to the environment. 


Well to wheel emission


While there is no direct tailpipe emission involved in electric vehicles the making of electric cars involves a great deal of energy. The emissions which get generated during electric car’s production tend to be greater than a conventional car. This is largely owing to the manufacture of lithium-ion batteries that are a crucial aspect of an electric car. 


As per the data extracted by an ICCT research more than a third of the lifetime CO2 emissions from an electric car originate from the energy used to make the car itself. The EV batteries are developed via finite resources like lithium, cobalt, manganese and nickel, which need to be mined and processed before the battery itself can be manufactured. 


The mining of lithium has heavy machinery involved in its extraction making it carbon-intensive and thus the production of these batteries can cause serious environmental damage such as pollution of Tibetan rivers near the resource mines.


The emission amount of an EV, however, largely depends on its geographic area and on the energy sources which are normally used for electricity. For instance, if the vehicle is used in California its electricity comes from natural gas whereas if it is used and charged in New Hampshire its electricity is generated from nuclear power plants. 


The challenges that Electric Vehicles are currently facing

The challenges that Electric Vehicles are currently facing

Cobalt Crisis


As the demand for electric vehicles escalates, particularly in the European region, factories have been working on generating more and more batteries to be leveraged in the production of the electric vehicles. However, their production relies on the availability of a crucial ingredient aka cobalt. 


This is the mineral utilised in the making of lithium-ion batteries which powers electric vehicles and its demand is steadily escalating. As per a research carried out by Elsa Olivetti and her colleagues at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, it has been estimated that the global demand for cobalt will rise to between 235,000 and 430,000 tonnes by 2030 – an amount that is at least 1.6 times the world’s current capacity to refine the metal, as of 2016 figures.


Cobalt is produced through copper or nickel mining and thus is impacted by any fluctuations in their demand or pricing. Alongside this, the ingredient is also expensive, costing around $33,000 per tone. The metal extraction also has a human cost with its supply originating from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where mining has been associated with child labour and deaths


Thus, while cobalt supply can be considered adequate in the short run, at the rate its demand is growing, more mining exploration will be required and the need for cobalt recycling is also escalated through its recovery via unused electric cars, laptops and mobile phones. 


Lack of Noise


The lack of noise which is considered one of the biggest boons of Electric cars may also be one of its biggest challenges. 


"Silent vehicles pose a significant risk to pedestrians, particularly those who are blind or have low vision," - Chris Edwards, Vision Australia manager government relations and advocacy


As reported by Car Advice, various advocate groups for blind and vision-impaired communities have requested for greater regulation of electric vehicles owing to the safety risks they pose to pedestrians because of their silent drivetrains.


"While there are many advantages of electric cars, the quiet engines make it incredibly difficult to hear them coming, especially when they’re travelling at low speeds."


As per submissions to a New South Wales Government inquiry, Vision Australia has emphasised research reporting that one in three vision-impaired pedestrians have reported facing collisions or near-misses with electric cars. 


Thus noise curbing feature, which while being an easy advantage for electric cars, also becomes one of it’s most crucial challenges. 




I’ll conclude this article by stating that while electric vehicles have a massive set of challenges ahead of them, their use could prove to be a huge asset to save the environment, how favourable an asset will largely depend on the type of vehicle as well as the source of the electricity.  


This article discusses how favourably EV’s contribute towards the environment and what challenges lie ahead of them. For more blogs on Analytics, Do read Analytics Steps and follow us on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook.

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