The dirty secret under the hoods of electric cars no one talks about

We’re well aware of the electric vehicle revolution that is sweeping nations across the World.  Several actions and policy positions taken by these nations are squarely in favor of a strong roll out of electric vehicles in that country. Automakers are revising their companies EV strategy and accelerating their plans to add capacities and even trying to define manufacturing practices in the development of EV.

The primary motivation that is driving EV sales globally is that they are a cleaner and greener mobility option when compared to conventional vehicles.  But the environmental impacts of a complete switchover to EVs are not completely understood. The very source of energy that is consumed by EVs, and the energy storage unit (Li-Ion battery) are widely debated topic among other by proponents and opponents of EV movement. The run for EV is a combination of mass decisions - yes. EV’s are best. But it is not so. Regulators haven’t set clear guidance on acceptable carbon emissions over the life cycle of electric cars.

What are the few dirty secrets under the hood of EV’s?

There is a saying that grass is always greener on the other side, but most of us are unaware that under the hoods of millions of the clean electric cars rolling onto the world’s road in the next few years will be a dirty battery. What needs to be understood is the carbon impact from these batteries.  This is a multidimensional problem and all facets have to be understood before taking a call on the same.

Every major automaker has plans to bring their EV on the road to cut the greenhouse gas emissions, yet their manufacturers are busy in making lithium-ion batteries in places with some of the most polluting grids in the world.

By 2021, there would be a demand for 10 million cars running on 60 kilowatt-hour packs, according to data of Bloomberg NEF, and it’s obvious there would be a need of large amount of batteries to curb the demand of for the same. Most supply will come from China, Thailand, Germany and Poland that heavily rely on non-renewable sources like coal or electricity.

According to Andrea Radics, a managing partner at Munich-based automotive consultancy “We are facing a bow wave of additional CO2 emissions,”. He also argues that drivers in Germany or Poland may still be better off with an efficient diesel engine. It is obvious that although electric cars are safe on the road, they can still discharge a lot of carbon-dioxide that conventional cars do.

We can differentiate the amount of carbon-dioxide emission as follows. To build each car battery – weighing upwards 500 kilograms (1,100 pounds ) in size for sport utility vehicles – would emit up to 74 percent more CO2 than the conventional cars, if it’s made in a factory powered by fossil fuels in a place like Germany, according to Berylls’ findings.+

With all the chaos and enthusiasm of EV mobility regulators have yet not set out clear guidelines on acceptable carbon emissions over the life cycle of electric cars, even as the likes of China, France and the UK’s move towards outright ban of combustion engines.

To put things in perspective, an average German car owner would have to drive a gas-guzzling vehicle for three and a half years, or more than 50,000 kilometer’s, before a Nissan leaf with a 30 kwh battery would beat it on carbon-dioxide emissions in a coal-heavy country, Berylls estimates show†.

We are yet to see a comprehensive LCA (Life Cycle Assessment) on carbon emissions on EVs for India. We could take cues from any global study however the differences could be related to our grid peculiarities (mainly GHg/kWh of delivered power) and import of batteries. Other things should more or less be the same. Of course the use case of EV will have variability depending upon how and when we charge these cars. And also the after-end-of-car-life for batteries, whether they are used for some other storage applications, or refurbished, or scrapped etc.

A switchover to Electric Mobility is going to curb air pollution and other negative externalities associated with internal combustible engine based mobility. But we can’t be completely relieved unless we completely understand the negative externalities associated with a EV and put the necessary counter measures in place right away.  Otherwise whatever good we are beginning to see or have come to expect from Electric Vehicles based mobility will be undone in no time.


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