Sustainability concerns for electric vehicles (EVs)
With the increasing demand for EVs every year, concerns about their environmental performance is a highly debated topic. As such, the following three (3) issues seem to be the leading ecological concerns for EVs and must be acknowledged and addressed as the EV technology continues to evolve while finding sustainability solutions to these challenges. Also, no technological change is without consequences, and in most cases, there are trade-offs to assess. These three (3) issues are:
1. The use of critical earth metals, i.e., Neodymium, dysprosium, and praseodymium that are scarce.
2. EV batteries if not recycled or re-used, pose a significant danger to the environment.
3. The climate impact of EVs, when powered by carbon-intensive electricity, does not provide the environmental benefit of fighting climate change.
1. Use of critical earth metals
Critical “elements” of the earth like Neodymium, dysprosium, and praseodymium are used in the manufacturing of magnets for electric vehicle motors and lithium-ion batteries.
However, these rare metals aren’t as rare as precious metals like gold, platinum, and palladium and the main driver at the moment for rapid use of these critical elements is the global demand for cellphones, laptop computers, and other electronic devices that use lithium-ion batteries.
With the current recycling rate of these metals being less than one (1) percent and material substitution possibilities limited as well, it calls for certification extraction programs to encourage stronger social and environmental standards.
2. EV batteries need a proper recycling program
EV batteries are predominantly Lithium-ion batteries (e.g., Nickel-manganese-cobalt (NMC), lithium-nickel manganese cobalt oxide (NMC)) which use lithium, cobalt, nickel, and graphite.
With the increasing demand for EVs and most batteries lasting at least eight (8) years, it is critical to in the long-term to re-use, recycle and have a progressive program for substitution that will help to reduce the long-term environmental impact of EVs.
Sustainable recycle and re-use programs will help to tackle the danger to the environment with increased adoption of EVs in the future.
3. Life-cycle climate impact of EVs
From a life-cycle perspective, EVs if powered from electrical grids that are carbon-intensive (i.e., that source a considerable portion of their power generation from fossil fuels or coal), this does not significantly help to reduce well-to-wheel greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with EVs.
Well-to-wheel results account for all the energy and emissions necessary to produce the fuel used in the car (Well to Pump) and the operation energy and emissions associated with the vehicle technology (tail-pipe emissions, other emissions, and energy efficiency of the vehicle).
According to the EnergySage, taking well-to-wheel emissions into account, all-electric cars emit an average of around 4,450 pounds of CO2 equivalent each year. In comparison, conventional gasoline cars will emit over twice as much annually.
However, the amount of well-to-wheel emissions your EV is responsible for is mostly dependent on your geographic area and the energy sources most commonly used for electricity. As more renewable energy enters the grid, the climate impact of EV will further diminish. Countries with the highest grid carbon intensity will deliver less climate benefit compared to countries with a low grid carbon intensity that will have substantial climate benefits.
Solar PV a great solution to tackle the climate impacts of EVs
Powering your EV with solar panels will help to off-set carbon emissions, especially when the grid power is carbon-intensive. Solar PV comes in handy for powering your vehicle in places where the grid is primarily powered with fossil fuels hence reducing the environmental impact of your EV. Learn more here about the Environment and EVs.