By: Spencer Smith
Travel is a sustainability topic frequently discussed. Throughout not just the U.S. but also the world, transportation is a large producer of Carbon Emissions. Cars designed to cut carbon emissions are nothing new. Toyota has had hybrids on the markets for over a decade, and BMW has been working with Hydrogen Fuel Cell cars for years. In this article, I’d like to put those other ventures aside in favor of discussing Electric Vehicles more in-depth. Electric Vehicles have become the new car fad. Companies like Tesla are making huge strides in mass adoption of passenger cars, and Ford is introducing one of the first All-Electric trucks with the F-150 Lightning. So, now that electric vehicles are more accessible to the average consumer, will they truly benefit the environment? This post will examine emissions and end-of-life issues, leaving performance to the car aficionados.
The best place to start would be the creation of the two cars. While an electric car weighs much less (which would make them more efficient) and use fewer materials than a traditional gas car, the creation of Lithium Batteries comes with a large carbon cost. The Swedish Environmental Institute found that production of a smaller battery (30 kWh) released 1-5 tonnes of and a larger battery (100 kWh) released 6-17.5 tonnes of . For reference, most cars produce 10 tonnes of to make the other components of the vehicle. This may seem high, especially when compared to Lead-Acid Batteries. For a traditional Lead Acid battery, the EPA estimates that up to 80% of the battery can be recycled. We will discuss the important issue of battery recycling in a future blog post. But the battery is only half of the story with a vehicle.
The largest benefit of an electric car is the fact that the car itself produces no emissions, as it runs off a battery. This is where an Electric Vehicle becomes more sustainable, as long as the creation of that electricity doesn’t create more carbon emissions than burning gasoline. Every year our electric grid improves. According to UCSUSA “sustained lower natural gas prices have led to a declining share of coal-fired power and a rising share of electricity generated from natural gas,” (UCSUSA 9). This means that even though most electric cars are charged via the grid, they still produce much less than traditional gas vehicles. This varies based on the state you reside in. If you want to see the viability of an electric vehicle in your state, use the US Department of Energy’s Car Emission tracker. The link to this website is linked in the footer of this post. And, if the cars are recharged from solar power on the owners’ houses, the situation improves even further.
So, what is the conclusion? Although it may be dissatisfying, our best solution out of the climate crisis is moderation. There is simply no way we can consume our way out of the climate crisis, rather we must focus on reducing our usage. If you do decide to purchase an electric vehicle, make sure to buy a car based on your needs. Most drivers have short commutes and could live with a smaller battery in their car. This would make your car even greener. If you do have a gas car, take shorter trips, or plan out your routes to travel a shorter distance. A great way to find out more about your current car is by reading its Moroni sticker.
By reading this post you are helping yourself be more informed, keep it up! There is much more to the conversation of electric vehicles, and I would encourage you to continue learning. Everyone can help the planet, Sustainability is Universal!
Department of Energy Link: Alternative Fuels Data Center: Emissions from Hybrid and Plug-In Electric Vehicles (energy.gov)