Electric Vehicles will help pave the path to a more sustainable future for the global climate but only after ethical concerns have been resolved.
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1 October 2019
Should we continue investing R&D into electric vehicles to have a more sustainable future?
As electric vehicles are entering the market at an increasing rate as IEA, International Energy Agency, reported, “2018 was another record-breaking year for global electric car sales (1.98 million)” discussion as to whether they are more advantageous than combustion-based vehicles is littered in the media. They have deep underlying emissions and harmful substances that usually plague the beginning and ending life cycle.
Many people raise the issue that even though tailpipe emissions of EVs are eco-friendly, the batteries used in those vehicles may not be. Most mainstream lithium-ion batteries contain cobalt, or as Ellon Airhart, a writer for WIRED, calls it, “the blood diamonds of batteries.” This is due to the human rights violations that are involved in the mining of cobalt as stated in the WIRED article. Companies are combating this issue in different ways. Tesla, who is one of the main contributors to the EV movement, are searching for ways to reduce the amount of cobalt in their batteries. Panasonic, one of Tesla’s battery contributors, stated, “[w]e are aiming to achieve zero usage [of cobalt] in the near future … we have already cut down cobalt usage substantially,” According to Jack Farchy and Mark Gurman, writers for Bloomberg, other companies such as Apple source their cobalt directly from the miners to address human rights standards. Cobalt is not the only issue surrounding the battery.
Lifetime cycle emissions are the emissions produced from sourcing of materials and the creation of vehicles. Obtaining lifetime cycle emissions data is difficult and sometimes inaccurate. Isolating the different stages of development can be useful in estimating emission levels. According to James Ellsmoor, a former writer for Forbes, we can determine the battery emissions for example, “[c]hinese EV battery manufacturers produce up to 60% more CO2 during fabrication than ICEV[Internal Combustion Engine Vehicle] engine production …” Despite the CO2 being produced in production of EVs, electric cars are more sustainable for their surrounding environment than their combustion engine counterparts. In addition, battery electric vehicles produce less greenhouse gasses than internal combustion vehicles. Timothy Barder, PhD who has an expertise in Scientific Assessments, notes that, BEV, battery electric vehicles, produce 23% less greenhouse gasses then ICEV, internal combustion engine vehicles. Cleaner sources of electricity for electric vehicles will result in less greenhouse emissions during the life cycle of an EV. According to the International Council on Clean Transportation, “[a]n average electric vehicle in Europe produces 50% less life-cycle greenhouse gases over the first 150,000 kilometers of driving, although the relative benefit varies from 28% to 72%, depending on local electricity production.”
In addition to the lifetime cycle emissions, greenhouse gases that are produced during the charging of electric vehicles. The European Environmental Agency, citing Öko-Institut and Transport & Mobility Leuven, 2016, claims that another deadly emission NOx, saved from tailpipe emissions outweigh the NOx emissions from energy generated to power electric vehicles. As the energy used for charging becomes cleaner, the less emissions there will. This is backed by European Environmental Agency in a quote, “[a]s the proportion of renewable electricity increases and coal combustion decreases in the European electricity mix over the next decades (EC, 2016; Figure 4.5), the air quality advantage of BEVs over ICEVs is likely to increase in tandem (e.g. Öko-Institut and Transport & Mobility Leuven, 2016).“ A potential solution to clean charging may be solar panels. Solar panels can either be placed on cars, roofs of houses, or over carports. According to the Soft Energy Applications & Environmental Protection Lab of University of West Attic, “[i]t is proven that a solar carport of 3kWp total capacity can support an EV covering more than 20000km within one year.” Having the ability to run 20,000 kilometers off a single carport significantly decreases the greenhouse emissions during charging. In addition, according to an article by ADAC, the largest automobile club in Europe, “[t]he average annual mileage per European is 13,000 km.“ Provided with this information it could be possible to charge your card purely off the solar panels at your carport. However, the issue of losing charge on the road has become a valid concern. As a result, major companies such as Toyota and Hyundai have been developing and are releasing cars with solar panels built on the roof. According to Masaharu Fujinaka, who works in the Division of Electrical and Electronic Engineering at Tokyo Denki University, states “[f]lexible, light and thin film a-Si photovoltaic cells … be stuck to a curved surface and hence applied to solar battery cars.” It is important to note that Jacob Douglas, a news intern at CNBC, reported that “[i]n 2017, Tesla CEO Elon Musk called it a fantasy to put solar panels on cars, stating that the surface area available for panels, and the amount of time many cars spend parked in garages, argued against pursuing the design.”
EVs are a necessary stepping stone along the path to having a sustainable future with still having a personal vehicles. However, many more iterations are still needed. Regulation of EVs is necessary to ensure that clean energy is used in fabricating and charging, nondestructive mining habits are put into place, and human rights are maintained.
The European Commission. “Solar Energy Contribution to an Electric Vehicle Needs on the Basis of Long-Term Measurements.” Procedia Structural Integrity, Elsevier, 5 Oct. 2018, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2452321618300775.
Airhart, Ellen. “Alternatives to Cobalt, the Blood Diamond of Batteries.” Wired, Conde Nast, 7 June 2018, www.wired.com/story/alternatives-to-cobalt-the-blood-diamond-of-batteries/.
“Benefits of Passenger Car Travel in Europe.” ADAC, Allgemeiner Deutscher Automobil-Club E.V., , 2015, www.adac.de/_mmm/pdf/fi_nutzen_pkw-verkehrs_europa_faltblatt_englisch_1115_238337.pdf.
Brennan, John W., and Timothy E. Barder. Battery Electric Vehicles vs. Internal Combustion Engine Vehicles . www.adlittle.de/sites/default/files/viewpoints/ADL_BEVs_vs_ICEVs_FINAL_November_292016.pdf.
Douglas, Jacob. “Tesla’s Musk Says Solar Panels on Cars Make Little Sense, but That’s Not Stopping Toyota, Hyundai.” CNBC, CNBC, 28 Sept. 2019, www.cnbc.com/2019/09/28/teslas-musk-rejects-solar-on-cars-its-not-stopping-toyota-hyundai.html.
“Electric Vehicles from Life Cycle and Circular Economy Perspectives – TERM 2018.” European Environment Agency, 30 Nov. 2018, www.eea.europa.eu/publications/electric-vehicles-from-life-cycle.
Ellsmoor, James. “Are Electric Vehicles Really Better For The Environment?” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 21 May 2019, www.forbes.com/sites/jamesellsmoor/2019/05/20/are-electric-vehicles-really-better-for-the-environment/#62dfd7d376d2.
Farchy, Jack, and Mark Gurman. “Apple in Talks to Buy Cobalt Directly From Miners.” Bloomberg.com, Bloomberg, 21 Feb. 2018, www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-02-21/apple-is-said-to-negotiate-buying-cobalt-direct-from-miners.
Gorner, Marine, et al. “TCEP: Electric Vehicles.” International Energy Agency, 29 May 2019, www.iea.org/tcep/transport/electricvehicles/.
Hall, Dale, and Nic Lutsey. Effects of Battery Manufacturing on Electric Vehicle Life-Cycle Greenhouse Gas Emissions. ICCT, Feb. 2018, theicct.org/sites/default/files/publications/EV-life-cycle-GHG_ICCT-Briefing_09022018_vF.pdf.
MasaharuFujinaka. “Solar Cars Free of Environmental Pollution-Prototype of Practically Usable Car Completed.” Renewable Energy, Pergamon, 1 July 2003, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/096014819290060G.
“Panasonic Plans to Develop Cobalt-Free Car Batteries.” Reuters, Thomson Reuters, 30 May 2018, www.reuters.com/article/us-panasonic-battery/panasonic-plans-to-develop-cobalt-free-car-batteries-idUSKCN1IV14Y.