Science & Technology

Electric vehicles alone cannot solve climate change

Politicians and car makers are also participating in electric car caravans. Biden administration at the end of March Announced plans to invest $ 174 billion in the EV market, Some funds are directed to establish a nationwide network of charging stations. Last year, the Governor of California issued an executive order that all new cars be sold in the state. Must be zero emissions by 2035..And car makers like GM Clean up their fleet In the near future.

Electrification of transportation is an important component of the decarbonized future. Throughout its life, EVs emit less greenhouse gases than combustion-powered vehicles. However, some experts warn that the tendency to focus on EVs when discussing transport emissions is another example of our desire for rapid technology modifications. “It’s fascinating because it means you don’t have to change your behavior,” says Richard Watts, a professor of public policy at the University of Vermont.

Let’s be clear. Replacing gas and diesel engines with battery-powered ones will help fight climate change. last year, Study in Natural sustainability We found that 95% of the world’s transportation systems drive electric vehicles with lower lifetime emissions, including greenhouse gases, associated with production, use and disposal than gasoline vehicles. The only exception is places like Poland, where coal is mainly burned for energy. Natural gas powers EVs, but their energy efficiency gives them an edge over gas guzzlers. EV converts 77% or more Of the energy used to power them and turn their wheels; however, combustion loses a lot of energy. Only 12 to 30 percent is actually used to propel the vehicle.

How big is the benefit Depends on where you live, Because the fuel that powers the grid determines the carbon intensity of the power. However, as many countries are moving to decarbonization, buying an EV means that your car will get cleaner over time.

The battery is the dirtiest part of an electric car

However, the climatic benefits of electric vehicles are the result of road efficiency. The manufacturing stage is another issue. The production of EVs has a greater impact on the environment than the production of combustion vehicles. At this stage, the energy and materials used to make the EV increase greenhouse gas emissions. This is mainly due to the large battery pack that powers the EV. “On average, battery production represents half the emissions of electric vehicle production,” says Alexander Milovanov, a sustainability researcher at the University of Toronto. Manufacturing the EV battery pack itself can produce the same emissions as manufacturing an entire gas or diesel burning vehicle.

Various components of an electric vehicle. AFDC

Each small cell that makes up the battery pack requires a metal such as lithium, cobalt, or nickel. Mining these materials can be destructive, polluted and consume large amounts of energy. For example, refining nickel and cobalt from ore causes air pollution of sulfur dioxide, says Qiang Dai, an energy system analyst at Argonne National Laboratory. Then convert these materials into battery components such as cathode powder. This converts the stored energy into electricity for the car. Burn a lot of energyFor example, battery cells need to be assembled in a special “drying room” that requires extensive humidity control.

Some ingredients are considered “important minerals” by the US government. So while they are valuable to the economy, they come from fragile supply chains. One example is cobalt, 70% of which comes from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, affected by mining practices. Concerns about human rights violations..

The battery supply chain spans continents and consumes large amounts of greenhouse gases, making it difficult to regulate. “A single material can be mined in one country, refined elsewhere, and then converted to active cathode powder, for example, in another country,” says Dai. By the time you grab the steering wheel of your new EV, the battery has already traveled around the world.

Re-prescription and recycling can mitigate the impact on the battery

There is plenty of room for improvement in batteries. Researchers are actively working on adjusting the materials used in manufacturing, which can result in cheaper cells and lower environmental costs. “The current trend is that they are trying to reduce the cobalt content of the active cathode material and increase the nickel content,” says Die. This advancement could increase access to raw materials as nickel is more widely available, battery costs are lower, and vehicle range is extended.

Reuse and recycling also provide the opportunity to reduce the environmental footprint of EVs. But now there aren’t enough EVs on the road for the battery to generate a significant recycle stream, Dai says. However, as the fleet grows, it may be possible to recover some material. The precious metals contained in batteries are much more concentrated than the ore, so they can be extracted and reused to reduce the impact of manufacturing new batteries.

Milovanoff adds that the batteries themselves are not always obsolete at the end of EV use. You can extract the cells in the battery and reuse them for other purposes. But recycling is not an infinite closed loop. At some point, the material cannot be reused and is inevitably destined for landfill. “These are the limits determined by physics,” says Milovanoff. “There is always a need for new primary materials from important materials.”

EV is part of a sustainable transportation ecosystem

If Americans rely solely on electric vehicles to decarbonize their transportation, they will need a huge number of EVs (350 million) by 2050. Half of the national electricity demand According to a recent analysis led by Milovanov, the need to mine important elements such as lithium, cobalt and manganese is skyrocketing. To reduce the impact of electricity consumption and the mining of those minerals, we need to reduce per capita car ownership and reduce mileage.

“Our society needs to rethink its dependence on cars,” says Watts. He believes that solutions to curb transport emissions need to include shifting infrastructure and policies from support for automotive-centric cities. “Over time, we’ve come to understand that if you want to reduce people’s driving, you can’t invest in a car-centric infrastructure.”

This seems to be recognized by Washington policymakers.

There are many places to start. Watt says it’s important to offer more options to people — safe bike lanes and sidewalks, and reliable public transport. When the city adds a protected bike lane, More cycling.. Zoning changes that allow higher density development for a variety of applications, such as residential areas close to commercial facilities, also reduce driving.

That said, if you find yourself in need of a new car, the electric model will pay its own price in terms of emissions over time.One study found that the new Nissan Leaf is paying back its “carbon debt” in the UK With less than 2 years of driving.. “I got the EV myself,” says Dai. “Personally, I’ll try to convince everyone I know to drive an EV.”

Electric vehicles alone cannot solve climate change Electric vehicles alone cannot solve climate change

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