Energy

Are Electric Cars Really Better for the Planet?

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Shutterstock Photo License - By Viktoriia Hnatiuk

Electric cars have been on the rise in recent years. More people are switching to lower their emissions and be more environmentally friendly. With electric vehicles becoming available with larger ranges, even EV sceptics are going electric.

Around the world, governments are encouraging drivers to make the switch. Government grants are available to install at-home electric car charging points. In the UK, electric cars are exempt from road tax. Plus, in 2030, the sale of petrol and diesel cars will be banned in the UK in an attempt to reach net-zero emissions to slow the effects of global warming.

But are electric cars really better for the planet? A lot of people seem to think so, and with good reason. Electric vehicles aren’t directly powered by fossil fuels, emitting zero tailpipe emissions. But are they really as environmentally friendly as we think? To understand the true impact of electric cars on the environment, we need to look at every stage of the EV lifecycle.

The Environmental Impact of Electric Car Production

Most of an EV’s environmental impact comes from its production. According to the European Environment Agency (EEA) report, manufacturing emissions for electric cars are much higher than fuel-based vehicles. Another study found EV production emissions around 60% higher than traditional vehicle production.

So why does EV production have higher manufacturing emissions? A lot of it comes down to electric vehicles still being an emerging market. Much of it has to do with the materials used in EVs and the fact they require more energy to produce. For example, EV batteries require raw materials like lithium and cobalt, which have to be mined, which involves a lot of energy.

Alongside sourcing raw materials, the production of the batteries themselves is relatively complex and requires a lot of energy. Currently, most EV batteries are manufactured in China, Japan and South Korea, which predominantly use carbon to create electricity to run manufacturing plants.  

The Environmental Impact of Driving an Electric Car

Electric vehicles are often lauded as being zero-emission. You’ve probably heard them described as such, but it’s essential to understand what the term means. When an electric car is on the road, it doesn’t directly contribute to greenhouse gas emissions from the exhaust.

But while there are no direct emissions from driving, electric cars need regular charging, which uses energy partially from fossil fuels. As a result, they have had an impact on the power production industry. So while electric vehicles produce zero tailpipe emissions, they’re not entirely emission-free.

The good news is that electric cars can be emission-free. With the electricity sector getting cleaner and using more renewable energy sources, eventually charging your electric vehicle will come at a much lower environmental cost. With zero tailpipe emissions, local environments will enjoy cleaner and better air quality.

The Environmental Impact of Electric Car Disposal

Even with production and indirect driving emissions, electric cars have a lot to offer regarding eco-friendliness and economy. Plus, with increasingly better technology, most estimates show they should last you a long while. Estimates show that the average lifespan of an electric car is around 150,000 miles. Depending on how far you drive annually, an EV could last you over 20 years.

Most EV batteries will start to lose capacity at around 150,000 miles. While they’ll still run, they’ll be less efficient and need to be charged more regularly. Most EV drivers will replace the battery or the car at this point. This is where many EV critics claim there is a problem.

Currently, there’s no standard procedure for the disposal or recycling of EV batteries. Since batteries are made of heavy metals and potentially harmful materials, there are concerns about their effect on the environment.

But this doesn’t look to be a problem for manufacturers and could be an environmental accolade. Most automakers focus on recycling as many raw materials as possible, with Volkswagen planning to reuse 95% of raw materials. By recycling the materials, there will be far less reliance on newly mined materials, drastically reducing the environmental impact of production.  

So Are Electric Cars Really Better for the Environment?

Yes, electric cars are definitely better for the environment. They don’t produce any direct emissions, making them far cleaner than traditional petrol or diesel cars. Plus, some of their electricity is generated from renewable sources like solar and wind power.

But there’s still plenty of room for improvement. As the electric vehicle market is relatively new, the infrastructure is still being developed and is currently quite resource-intensive. But as this improves and manufacturers focus on recycling, the process will become far more efficient.

Alongside this, countries around the world are focusing on renewable energy. The UK plans to reduce its emissions from electricity production by 90%. In China, where EV battery production is intense, there are plans to increase the use of renewable energy by 2025.

So electric vehicles aren’t perfect for the environment, but they get more green every year. They’re much cheaper to run and have become more affordable — especially with finance and car leasing deals. And in less than ten years, all new cars will be electric, so why wait?

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