With the huge impact that transportation has on the environment, the societal and governmental move towards electric mobility is a hopeful one. But there are some common doubts about how green electric vehicles actually are. And these doubts focus mainly on the EV batteries and on the cleanliness of the electrical grid.
When charging an EV, it’s easy to forget that how clean the power coming from the charger is depends on its geographical location. Some countries and regions have grids that are based completely, or almost completely, on renewable energy (such as Iceland, Norway, and Yukon). Other grids, where electricity is still mostly generated by burning coal, the EVs’ charge will be much less green (in India, China, and Australia, for example).
However, even in the countries that lag behind in applying renewable energy, EVs can still have lower overall emissions than internal combustion engine cars by anything from 19% to 69%. This is where more efficient EVs can help further. If we manage to make electric cars more efficient, they will require less electricity from the grid, which would be particularly helpful in areas where the grid is not as clean as it should be.
The processes involved in manufacturing lithium-ion EV batteries are far from perfect. Environmental impact and human rights concerns connected to mining the raw materials are the main problems brought up in discussions about how green EVs really are.
To claim, in all honesty, the environmental friendliness of EVs, manufacturers should ensure that the batteries are made in a responsible way that causes much less damage than it currently does. They should also pledge social responsibility and only work with providers who are themselves environmentally responsible and don’t violate human rights.
Consumers and governments can put pressure on manufacturers to do so, but it’s a change that has to come from within the industry. When or if it does, we will be able to, more honestly, claim social and environmental responsibility.
The lead-acid battery technology is older than the lithium-ion type used in most electric vehicles, so their recycling rates are very different—the former reaches almost 100% and the latter only about 5%. But, with the growth of the EV market, recycling plants are on the rise.
Materials that such facilities can recover include plastic, copper, aluminium, as well as anode and cathode materials that can be refined for high-purity battery chemicals. Recent tests have shown that lithium batteries made with recycled materials are just as good as new ones, so consumers can still get the same performance from their vehicles.
However, recycling batteries can use large amounts of water or emit pollutants, so giving the batteries another life is also a good idea and secondary markets for ex-vehicle batteries are a promising option. In the grid storage market, for example, the energy density per volume (or mass) of the battery is less important than it is in a vehicle. This way, the battery’s overall life can be significantly prolonged, lessening its environmental impact.
Battery lifespan depends on the systems to which it supplies power, so the batteries are not the only problem in the green equation. Motors that rely on these batteries are just as important, so improving vehicle efficiency to extend battery life is a necessary step towards making EVs more environmentally friendly.
New electric mobility technologies such as eDTS (which improves efficiency by at least 15%) is a chance to be greener. After all, batteries that last longer will require less power from the grid, and take the pressure off raw materials, manufacturing, and recycling.
With the right and more efficient motor technology, manufacturers can reduce the size of the battery pack, while meeting consumer preferences and larger environmental goals. Electric vehicles will help lessen the impact that road transport has on global carbon emissions, but we need a realistic view of the impact they have and strive to improve EV performance, thereby making them greener.