Are electric cars good for the environment?
Are electric cars really good for the environment? Some would answer that question with a resounding NO! Some go as far as calling the electric car an environmentalist. What they refer to is the proportion of carbon dioxide emitted in the manufacture of lithium-ion batteries. According to several reports, the production of a single such battery corresponds to many thousands of miles driving with a petrol or diesel car. The truth is that reality is far more complicated than that. The answer is more likely a “yes” rather than a no. We want to sort out the debate and try to explain why this is not as simple as a yes or no.
Misleading comparisons give incorrect data
Take the reports about the batteries for example. It says that the production of a 100 kWh lithium-ion battery produces a carbon dioxide emission of 15-20 tons. A Mercedes E 220 d (diesel) emits 102 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometer. This would mean that the car in question could travel between 14,706 and 19,608 kilometers before reaching the 15-20 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions required by the battery during the manufacturing process. In 2015, the average mileage for a European passenger car was 1739 kilometers per year (diesel). This means that it would take 8-11 years to “earn” the carbon dioxide emissions required in the manufacturing process of such a battery. There are three obvious problems with this comparison:
- Carbon emissions are not taken into account at all in the manufacturing process.
- Nor does the climate imprint arising from fossil fuel production take into account.
- The reports compare a large electric car with an outdated battery (charged with dirty coal) with a state-of-the-art small diesel car.
More climate-smart factories
More and more factories are becoming climate-smart as the growth rate of renewable energy is increasing in much of the world.
Many batteries are manufactured in Japan and South Korea that do not use renewable energy sources to the same extent as other parts of Europe and the western world. BUT, even in Japan, investments have been made in environmentally smart energy types over the past seven years. An example is self-sufficient microgrids that are made up of renewable alternatives such as solar and wind power.
More and more Japanese companies are investing in new micro-based energy structures and building new energy systems in several cities in the country. South Korea also wants to invest in cleaner electricity and reverse energy’s previous energy strategy to include much more renewable sources such as hydropower and solar energy. Another example of developments in climate-smart factories is the Tesla Giga Factory, which is to be entirely powered by renewable energy.
There is a lot going on in the electric car industry
Electric cars are an industry that is developing at a furious pace. The same is true with batteries and charging infrastructure. It is directly misleading to present research results that do not factor in new studies and insights. Several reports on the negative environmental impact of electric cars and batteries in the production line are based on studies that are 3 – 4 years old and often even older. They are often based on old truths and sometimes even misleading. Examples from a recent report say that:
- A typical electric car emits 29 percent less carbon dioxide compared to the most efficient combustion car.
- Electric cars are significantly more efficient than the corresponding petrol or diesel cars. They can run much longer with a certain amount of energy and therefore contribute to less emission from fuel production and driving.
- An average electric car in Europe has “run in” emissions from battery production in just two years, if it is charged with average European electricity. That figure increases to three years in countries with more dirty electricity.
- Not even if the electric car is charged with dirty power, and if the batteries are built in a dirty way, it emits more than an average fossil car.
Is the manufacture of lithium-ion batteries for electric cars harmful to the environment? It can be. But how much or how little carbon dioxide emissions affect the environment depends on the energy mix of the country the battery is manufactured in, and how sustainable the factories are. Thus, how clean electric cars are varies depending on the country that produces them. In countries with nuclear power and renewable energy, the manufacturing process of lithium-ion batteries is more sustainable for the environment than in countries with high coal power. And we are getting better all the time.
Countries with a lot of coal power such as Japan and South Korea make room for renewable energy sources in the energy mix. At the same time, factories and manufacturing industries are being developed to be powered by renewable electricity.
It is good that the manufacture of lithium-ion batteries is questioned and discussed. We welcome reports and studies that illustrate the manufacturing process of lithium batteries. Especially in this era of “Fake News.” Source criticism is important and perhaps especially when it comes to environmental and sustainability law. But relevant comparisons and well-founded results must form the basis for the information presented. Drive your electric car with good conscience. You make a difference. Both now and for the future development.