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Why Electric Cars are Bad

Why Electric Cars are Bad

Electric vehicles (EVs) have surged in popularity in recent years as an eco-friendly alternative to gas-powered cars. Many consumers are drawn to their promise of zero tailpipe emissions and reduced reliance on fossil fuels. This has led to a common perception that driving an EV is inherently better for the environment.

However, recent studies have questioned just how “green” EVs truly are when considering their entire life cycle, from manufacturing to end-of-life disposal. Some analyses indicate EVs may actually have larger carbon footprints compared to conventional vehicles once these factors are accounted for.

This article will take a deeper look at the key arguments about why EVs may be worse for the environment than commonly thought. We’ll examine concerns around battery production, electricity generation, raw materials extraction, and other issues to analyze the environmental pros and cons of electric vehicles.

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Battery Manufacturing Causes High Emissions

Producing lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles is an energy-intensive process that generates substantial greenhouse gas emissions. Extracting and refining battery materials like lithium, cobalt, nickel, and manganese requires large amounts of electricity and heat. This leads to CO2 emissions, especially when power comes from fossil fuels.

Estimates vary on the exact carbon footprint of manufacturing an EV battery, but most analyses find it is significantly higher than making an engine for a gasoline-powered car. One study calculated producing an 85 kilowatt-hour EV battery results in emissions equal to driving a fuel-efficient car for 6,500 miles. Other researchers estimate the manufacturing emissions of a Tesla battery are comparable to driving a gas car for 8 years.

While battery production causes high CO2 emissions up front, EVs generally make up for it over their lifetimes. Driving on electricity is cleaner than burning gasoline or diesel. But the large carbon debt incurred during manufacturing is an often overlooked environmental impact.

 

Lithium and Cobalt Mining Harms Communities

Lithium and cobalt, key materials in EV batteries, are often mined in developing countries with less environmental regulation. Lithium is concentrated in the “lithium triangle” region of Chile, Argentina, and Bolivia. Cobalt primarily comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo in Africa. Both minerals are extracted through open pit mining, which involves clearing vegetation, blasting, and digging massive surface mines.

These large-scale operations consume huge amounts of water, which is already scarce in lithium-rich desert areas. Toxic chemicals are used to process the mined ore, polluting the air and leaching into groundwater. Mining waste products often flow into rivers, harming ecosystems. The mines themselves permanently scar landscapes.

Mining frequently occurs on indigenous lands without consent, devastating communities. In Chile’s Atacama region, lithium operations have caused water shortages and contamination that has displaced local farmers. In Congo, artisanal cobalt mines rely heavily on child labor in dangerous conditions. Unethical mining practices will continue without proper environmental and social regulation.

 

Short Battery Lifespans

One of the biggest concerns around electric vehicles is the lifespan of their batteries. Unlike a gas tank that can essentially last forever, EV batteries degrade over time. After around 8-10 years, most EV batteries have degraded to 70-80% of their original capacity. This reduced range makes the vehicles much less practical for daily use.

Several factors impact how long an EV battery lasts. High temperatures, frequent fast charging, and deep discharging can all accelerate capacity loss. Battery chemistry also plays a role, with lithium iron phosphate designs lasting longer than cobalt-based cells. Regardless, all lithium-ion batteries see reduced performance over time.

Once degraded, recycling and reusing EV batteries presents challenges. They contain many valuable materials, but costs and technical hurdles exist in extracting them. As a result, most spent EV batteries currently end up in landfills. Closed-loop recycling systems are needed to recover these materials and manufacture new batteries.

Until recycling improves, the frequent replacement of EV batteries could greatly increase raw material demands. With lifespans under 10 years, supply chains may struggle providing materials for new vehicle sales and battery swaps. Improved battery chemistries that last longer while enabling high recycling rates are essential to making EVs sustainable.

 

Increased Electricity Demand Strains Grid

One major concern with the rise of electric vehicles is the increased strain they will place on electrical grids. Currently, the energy used to charge EVs comes mainly from existing power plants, most of which burn fossil fuels like coal and natural gas. This means that rather than eliminating emissions, EVs are simply shifting those emissions from vehicles to power plants.

If EVs become widely adopted, the increased electricity demand could be massive. Estimates suggest powering the current U.S. vehicle fleet with electricity would require a 25-38% increase in grid capacity. Upgrading power grids to handle this extra demand is extremely costly and resource-intensive, requiring new power plants, transmission lines, transformers, and other infrastructure.

For EVs to actually provide environmental benefits versus gas-powered cars, the electricity used to charge them must come from clean, renewable sources like solar and wind. Otherwise, the net greenhouse gas emissions are similar. Most experts agree that rapidly transitioning to renewable energy is essential in order for EVs to reduce emissions and fulfill their environmental promise.

In areas where coal makes up a high percentage of the energy mix, such as parts of China and India, EVs charged on the grid often produce more emissions over their lifetime than the most efficient gasoline vehicles. The cleanest EVs are those charged primarily by renewable energy sources.

 

EVs Less Efficient in Cold Weather

One of the key drawbacks of electric vehicles compared to gas-powered cars is that they become much less energy efficient in cold weather conditions. While gas cars also see some decline in fuel economy from wind resistance and warming the engine, EVs can experience drastic reductions in driving range when operated in freezing temperatures.

This is because lithium-ion batteries lose capacity and discharge power faster in cold weather. In an EV, much of the battery’s charge goes towards heating the cabin rather than propelling the vehicle. Studies have shown that EVs like the Nissan Leaf and Tesla Model 3 can lose over 40% of their EPA-rated range when driven in temperatures below 20°F. By comparison, a gas car’s range declines by 15-30% in the same conditions.

The reduced cold weather efficiency of EVs makes them impractical for drivers in northern climates. They require more frequent charging and have range anxiety about running out of charge. Even in more temperate winters, EV owners find they must sacrifice cabin heating to conserve battery charge. Gas vehicles do not face the same tradeoffs.

While battery thermal management is improving, extreme cold will always sap electric power more than gasoline. For EVs to excel as green vehicles in cold regions, larger batteries are needed, undermining their sustainability benefits.

 

Cobalt Mining Child Labor Concerns

The mining of cobalt, a key component of lithium-ion batteries, has raised major ethical concerns. Over 70% of the world’s cobalt is mined in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where weak regulation has led to unsafe conditions and the use of child labor.

In the DRC, cobalt is often mined by hand from small, artisanal mines. These operations frequently involve children as young as 7 years old performing difficult and hazardous tasks. Surveys have found thousands of children working in cobalt mines, being exposed to toxic metals and denied schooling.

In response, automakers and tech companies using cobalt have launched initiatives to improve ethical sourcing. Some support programs to eliminate child labor from supply chains, while others are exploring blockchain to track materials. Governments have also stepped up regulations and due diligence requirements.

However, ensuring cobalt is ethically mined remains an immense challenge. More collaboration between companies, governments, and NGOs is still needed to fully address unsafe conditions and human rights issues in the DRC’s cobalt sector.

 

Water Usage Impacts of Lithium Mining

Extracting lithium from brines or hard rock mining requires substantial amounts of water, which can strain local water supplies. Lithium brine operations pump groundwater into evaporation ponds, where it takes between 12-18 months for the lithium to concentrate enough to extract. This consumes millions of gallons of water in arid regions. In Chile’s Salar de Atacama, lithium mining activities were linked to a significant drop in groundwater levels. The region’s farming communities experienced shortages and protested the mining operations.

Similarly, lithium hard rock mines require water for dust control, equipment cooling, and extracting the lithium from the ore. A proposed lithium mine at Thacker Pass in Nevada aims to pump billions of gallons of groundwater. Local tribes raised concerns about impacts to scarce water resources and sacred sites. As demand for lithium grows, mining’s pressure on water supplies is likely to increase. Companies must employ recycling and water conservation measures to reduce impacts.

 

Wildlife Impacts from Lithium Mining

The extraction of lithium can have detrimental effects on wildlife and ecosystems in lithium-rich areas. Lithium is often mined from brine reservoirs, which are found beneath salt flats. The pumping of brine disrupts these sensitive environments and can reduce water levels substantially.

For example, lithium operations in Chile’s Atacama salt flats have caused groundwater depletion, soil contamination, and the disruption of flamingo nesting grounds. The region contains vital wetland habitats, and pumping operations have noticeably reduced water levels in lagoons relied on by local wildlife. Species such as the Andean camelids, Andean fox, and Puna rhea face threats from this disruption of the local hydrology.

There have been some efforts by mining companies to mitigate the environmental damage of lithium operations. Monitoring of water levels, more efficient water usage, and the construction of artificial wetlands are measures that have been implemented. However, many conservationists argue that more needs to be done to protect vulnerable ecosystems as lithium demand continues to grow globally.

Developing less invasive methods of lithium extraction, such as from clays, could help reduce the impacts on wildlife. But a balance needs to be found between obtaining this crucial mineral for renewable energy technology and preserving fragile environments and biodiversity.

 

High Raw Materials Demand

The massive growth expected in electric vehicle adoption is raising concerns about strained supply chains and shortages of key battery minerals like lithium, cobalt, and nickel. According to the International Energy Agency, the average electric vehicle requires 6 times more minerals than a conventional car. Specifically, an EV battery requires around 8kg of lithium, 35kg of nickel, and 15kg of cobalt. In comparison, a conventional internal combustion engine vehicle only requires about 50kg of steel and zero usage of high-demand battery minerals.

With over 10 million EVs estimated to be sold annually by 2025, the raw material requirements will be immense. Projections estimate that the EV industry will require well over 200,000 tons of lithium per year in the coming decade – nearly double current global production levels. The dramatic rise in mineral demand has led analysts to warn about market imbalances, price volatility, and supply chain bottlenecks that could slow EV adoption.

Securing stable supplies of ethically-sourced battery materials is critical for EVs to fulfill their environmental potential. Recycling, closed-loop supply chains, and investments into new responsibly-operated mines will help ease these materials constraints. But the sheer scale of raw materials required for an all-electric future underscores the urgency of advancing battery technologies that require less scarce resources.

 

Manufacturing Emissions Comparisons

One common criticism of EVs is that manufacturing their batteries leads to higher emissions compared to building conventional gasoline vehicles. Various lifecycle analyses have aimed to quantify these differences in emissions from raw material extraction through vehicle production.

In general, studies find producing an electric vehicle’s battery generates more upfront emissions – on the order of 15% to 70% more – than manufacturing a gas-powered car. The largest share arises from battery production. However, EVs offset this carbon debt over time by their lower operating emissions.

Analyses estimate the “break even” point comes within 6 months to 3 years, after which lifetime EV emissions fall below those of a gas car. The exact timeframe depends on factors like battery size, electricity grid emissions, and estimated mileage. EVs that rely on cleaner electricity see the quickest break even.

So while the initial carbon footprint of an EV is higher, over the full vehicle lifetime the emissions savings outweigh the early manufacturing impacts. And as production scales up and uses cleaner energy, reducing the embedded carbon in EV manufacturing will further improve their advantage.

 

Carbon Debt Payback Period

The carbon debt payback period refers to the amount of time it takes for an electric vehicle to become cleaner than a comparable gas-powered car, when considering full lifecycle emissions. This is due to the high emissions associated with manufacturing an EV’s battery pack.

Various studies have estimated this payback period to be between 1-3 years for a midsize EV charged on a relatively clean electricity grid. However, the carbon debt repayment time can stretch much longer in areas with dirtier electric grids relying heavily on coal power.

For example, one study found the manufacturing emissions of a Tesla Model 3 to be equivalent to driving a Toyota RAV4 for 8 years. But for a coal-dependent grid, the EV carbon debt could take 13 years to repay. This highlights the importance of power sources when evaluating EVs environmental benefits.

The carbon debt concept illustrates that while EVs provide emission savings in the use phase, the manufacturing phase entails substantial upfront emissions that must be offset over years of driving. To speed up the payback time, automakers are focused on reducing battery production impacts through renewable energy use and recycling.

 

Importance of Recycling

Recycling EV batteries is crucial to reducing their overall environmental impact. Currently, recycling rates are low – only about 5-10% of lithium-ion batteries are recycled globally. This represents a missed opportunity, as recycling batteries can help offset the high carbon emissions associated with raw material extraction and manufacturing.

Lithium-ion batteries are technically almost 100% recyclable. They contain valuable materials like lithium, cobalt, nickel, and copper that can be recovered and used to create new batteries. This “closed loop” recycling system reduces the need for new mining. Recycling also avoids sending toxic battery components to landfills.

However, recycling EV batteries is challenging. They have complex chemistries and many manufacturers use different designs. There is a lack of infrastructure to collect, transport and properly recycle the high volumes of batteries that will be retired from EVs. Chemical recycling processes also need more development to improve efficiency and material purity.

Policy measures like extended producer responsibility can encourage automakers to design batteries for recyclability. More R&D into battery collection logistics and advanced recycling methods is still required. If done properly, recycling could supply over half the lithium and cobalt required for new EV batteries in the future – drastically cutting upstream emissions.

 

Call for Ethical, Closed-Loop Battery Supply Chains

To truly minimize the environmental impact of EVs, automakers and governments must work to establish responsible and ethical closed-loop battery supply chains. This involves sourcing battery materials and manufacturing components sustainably, while also recovering materials at end-of-life through recycling programs.

Some automakers are pioneering battery sustainability initiatives. For example, Ford is partnering with suppliers to source cobalt certified as conflict-free. They are also exploring ways to ethically source lithium and nickel. Another initiative is Volkswagen’s partnership with battery suppliers to establish a closed-loop cobalt supply chain in which used batteries are recycled into new cathodes.

Governments also have a role to play in enabling ethical battery supply chains. Policies like extended producer responsibility can incentivize automakers to design batteries for recyclability. Governments can also fund advanced battery recycling research and set standards for responsible material sourcing.

With collaborative efforts between industry and government, EVs can deliver environmental benefits without sacrificing human rights or depleting finite resources. But achieving this requires holistic sustainability initiatives encompassing the full life cycle of EV batteries.

 

Conclusion

In summary, there are several key environmental concerns to consider regarding electric vehicles. While EVs provide clear efficiency and emissions benefits over gas vehicles during driving use, manufacturing the batteries and generating charging electricity currently involves substantial burdens. Producing the lithium-ion batteries can lead to high emissions due to the energy-intensive mining and materials processing. Extracting raw materials like lithium and cobalt often harms local communities through water depletion and pollution. And the limited lifespan of EV batteries, if not properly recycled, leads to more demand for newly mined materials.

Additionally, the increased electricity demand from EV charging puts more strain on power grids, shifting emissions from vehicles to often fossil fuel-powered plants. EVs also lose some of their efficiency benefits in cold weather conditions. There are also ethical concerns around child labor and environmental damage from lithium and cobalt mining in certain countries.

For EVs to fulfill their potential as an eco-friendly, sustainable transportation solution, clean energy systems like solar and wind must continue to expand to supply charging electricity. Closed-loop battery recycling processes need to advance as well to reduce the impacts of mining. With greater adoption of renewable energy and ethical battery supply chains, electric vehicles can provide environmental benefits versus gas-powered cars over their full lifecycles.

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Questions About Electric Car Drawbacks

Electric cars have several downsides in the Canadian climate and environment compared to gas-powered vehicles. The extreme cold temperatures reduce electric vehicle range significantly, while the lack of charging infrastructure in many areas makes long distance travel difficult. There are also concerns around the environmental impact of EV battery production and disposal.

Studies have shown that electric cars can lose over 40% of their range in extremely cold temperatures below -20°C. The reduced range is caused by the battery’s lowered efficiency and the need to power heating in the cabin. This “range anxiety” is a major downside for Canadian EV owners facing frigid winter months.



While certain provinces like Quebec have made big investments in EV charging stations, large swaths of rural Canada still lack adequate charging options. Building charging infrastructure is expensive and often relies on partnerships between governments and private companies. The difficulty of installing chargers across Canada’s expansive landscape remains an obstacle to convenient long distance EV travel.

Though EVs produce no tailpipe emissions, the mining of battery materials like lithium, cobalt, and nickel can cause habitat destruction and contaminate local water sources. There are also carbon emissions associated with battery manufacturing. At end-of-life, improper battery recycling can leach toxic chemicals into the environment. There are concerns Canada lacks sufficient infrastructure to responsibly dispose of spent EV batteries.

Lithium-ion batteries used in EVs work less efficiently in cold weather. As temperature drops, an EV battery’s ability to take in and store energy decreases noticeably. Owners may need to spend more time charging their vehicle in winter. The reduced efficiency also impacts driving range between charges. Heating the vehicle cabin in cold weather further strains the battery, lowering range.

While Canada has abundant hydroelectric capacity, fossil fuels like natural gas and coal still accounted for around 15% of the nation’s electricity generation in 2020. Since over half of Canada’s population lives in just two provinces – Ontario and Quebec – the electricity source powering EVs varies greatly across the country. Charging with fossil fuel-based electricity undermines some of the environmental benefits of EVs.

Electric vehicles carry far higher purchase prices than equivalent gas-powered models – often $10,000 to $15,000 more. When you factor in additional costs like installing a home charger, EVs remain largely unaffordable for average Canadian car buyers without government rebates and incentives. But incentive amounts vary greatly between provinces. The high upfront cost continues to discourage mainstream EV adoption.

Strong demand for used electric cars in Canada means their resale values stay remarkably high for the first 3-5 years. Limited new EV inventory further inflates used prices. With government rebates only applying to new vehicle purchases, buying used does little to improve affordability. Persistently expensive used EVs deter cost-conscious buyers from going electric when replacing an old gas car.

The average electric car range drops 25-40% when driving in sub-zero Canadian temperatures compared to moderate weather. Colder battery temperatures sap power and efficiency. Running vehicle heat, defrosters, and lights also divert energy from propulsion, further cutting range. Winter range loss exacerbates existing EV range limitations, making drivers anxious about running out of charge at inconvenient locations.



Insurers consider EVs more risky partly due to their heavy battery packs making repairs more expensive in a crash. Limited availability of replacement parts also drives up costs. Additionally, some provinces like Ontario and Quebec require EV owners to carry special liability coverage in case an incident occurs while charging. More restrictions expected in future push insurance rates even higher.

The average EV battery retains around 70-80% of its original capacity after 160,000 km, with gradual degradation thereafter. However, Canadian EV owners are more likely to experience accelerated battery degradation from extreme cold and repeated fast charging. Replacing failing EV batteries costs over $15,000, erasing some lifetime ownership cost advantages compared to gas vehicles.

Home EV chargers require special equipment and a dedicated 240-volt circuit, which can cost thousands for parts and labor. Upgrading an older home’s electrical panel to support a charger adds even more expense. Long wire runs to mount a charger in a garage far from the home’s service panel also increase complexity and price. These obstacles make convenient at-home charging prohibitively expensive for some.

Experts estimate achieving a minimum level of charging convenience comparable to gas stations could require investment between $17 billion and $50 billion by 2050. That factors in costs for fast chargers along highways, charging hubs in communities, and wiring upgrades enabling more home installation. Spreading this infrastructure across Canada’s vast geography poses an immense challenge.

Though automakers are planning electric pickups, their max towing and payload often fall short of diesel and gas counterparts. Hauling heavy loads rapidly drains EV batteries, compromising range. Truck electrification also lags behind SUVs and cars, limiting choice. Until EV pickups offer range, charging logistics, power and ruggedness on par with gas models, they remain impractical for many Canadian businesses and workers.

While EVs produce no tailpipe emissions, regenerated braking does little to reduce tire and brake dust pollution as their weight still strains components. Studies of EVs in Norway found particle emissions from tires were up to 14 times higher per vehicle-km than exhaust emissions from typical new gas cars. Canada’s cold climate and many gravel roads may worsen EV tire and brake wear.

Recycling lithium-ion batteries from EVs is technologically challenging and expensive due to their large size and complex chemistry mixing valuable and toxic materials. Canada currently lacks enough qualified recycling plants to properly process spent EV batteries domestically. Transporting old batteries overseas for recycling undermines their environmental benefit. Stronger regulations and investments into recycling infrastructure are needed.



If EVs captured just 15% of Canada’s passenger vehicle fleet, charging them would require over 55 terawatt-hours of additional electricity per year – equal to 14% of Canada’s total 2020 generation. Such a substantial new power demand would necessitate upgrades to electricity infrastructure like transmission lines, transformers and home connections costing tens of billions of dollars.

Factoring in EV price premiums, charging infrastructure costs, battery replacement and eventual disposal, lifecycle ownership costs for a compact EV can run over $5,000 higher compared to today’s efficient gas compacts. When their significant price and convenience disadvantages are weighed, non-luxury EVs still fail a cost-benefit analysis for average Canadian drivers.

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