How Eco-Friendly are Electric Vehicles, Actually?

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Over recent years, there has been a surge of affordable electric vehicles on the roads and in production. Automakers are promoting them as the more eco-friendly alternative to traditional gas-powered vehicles, claiming that they can help combat climate change.
However, as you might expect, the claim came with its share of critics. Concerns were raised surrounding the manufacturing process that went into making EV batteries and just how eco-friendly the power sources behind them are. As a result, a lot of misinformation and skepticism rose around the subject.
So, just how eco-friendly are electric vehicles actually?
In this article, we’ll see how eco-friendly electric vehicles are, the problems associated with them, and the steps taken to mitigate the negative aspects of EVs.

EV power vs. fossil fuel

Close-up of an EV electric plug as it charges an electric vehicle.
There’s a bit of confusion about the eco-friendly aspect of EVs
The main selling point for electric cars is that they reduce the overall emissions of greenhouse gases to the environment by producing little to no pollution. This is mainly influenced by the process where potential energy is transformed into kinetic energy as the car operates.
In traditional gasoline-powered cars, this potential energy would be stored in a chemical form then released via a chemical reaction in the car's engine. Thanks to lithium-ion batteries, however, electric cars release their energy electrochemically, without any combustion.
Since no fuel is burned, there is no air pollution from CO2 as you'd drive. The EVs are also generally more efficient than their fossil counterparts.

Battery production for electric vehicles

Generally, emissions tend to happen in 3 stages; in the manufacturing, the energy production stage, and at the end of the battery's life cycle. However, for EV cars, a chunk of it happens in manufacturing.
According to Forbes, the number one thing that taints the image of electric cars is the notion that a lot of pollution occurs when manufacturing their batteries.
Sure enough, batteries used in electric vehicles are composed of a variety of rare-earth metals whose extraction often results in carbon emissions. The elements cobalt and lithium have an especially heavy environmental impact. Another major concern is the issue of recycling, which is currently not being done on EV batteries.
But according to a report by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT), the pollution in manufacturing largely depends on where the batteries are produced and the composition of the batteries.
For instance, compared to European or American manufacturing techniques, Chinese electric vehicle battery manufacturers produce as much as 60% more CO2. This is almost as much as the pollution created during the manufacturing of diesel-based engines.
The good thing is that this can be significantly mitigated by employing more efficient manufacturing techniques and the use of better infrastructure in the process. For instance, the Chinese manufacturers could reduce their emissions by a whopping 66% if they used the more efficient American-based or European techniques.

Lifespan difference between engine vehicles and electric vehicles

According to the ICCT, there is a notable difference in the emissions made by electric combustion vs. internal combustion vehicles through the vehicle's lifespan.
On the one hand, we have EVs, which have zero combustion and no tailpipe emissions. Most of their CO2 emissions occur during manufacturing, making them more eco-friendly than diesel or petrol-powered vehicles.
On the other hand, we have the traditional Internal Combustion Engine Vehicles (ICEVs), which primarily operate on burning fuels to produce energy. While they have been gradually reducing emissions over the years, their CO2 output is still significantly higher than electric vehicles, which produce almost zero running emissions.
As electric vehicles become more prevalent, the battery recycling process will become more readily done and efficient, thereby reducing the need for extracting new materials from the ground. By doing so, there will be less overall mining and manufacturing, which will translate to even lower carbon emissions.
While the overall process behind the manufacturing of electric vehicles results in some carbon emissions, with the employment of better techniques, electric vehicles pave the way for a greener, emission-less future. If you are an EV enthusiast, there are still a few ways you can make sure electric cars are greener.

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