• Suzana Ezzi

Are electric cars better for the environment than conventional cars?

We are all aware of the damage human actions have caused our planet and the environment over the years. One of the main initiatives we constantly hear about is reducing our non-renewable energy usage and waste as much as possible through various techniques. We have developed many innovational alternatives to electricity powered by fossil fuels over the years, such as solar panels, windmills, and water turbines. Yet, at the same time, when it comes to cars, the step we take to decrease the impact of damage to our planet seems to be switching to electric cars. It seems a bit unusual, doesn’t it? So, are electric cars actually than our conventional gas cars for the environment?

Both cars store potential energy in the chemical form and transform it to kinetic energy upon need. The difference is that gas-powered cars transform their stored energy through combustion, releasing many toxic gases into the atmosphere through the process. Electric vehicles, however, release their energy electrochemically without any chemical reactions, with the use of their lithium batteries. Does this automatically make them greener cars?

Firstly, manufacturing both types of cars is generally very similar, but electric cars emit more CO2 during the manufacturing process. This is ironically due to their batteries, which store large amounts of energy. They are made of REEs (Rare Earth Elements) such as cobalt, nickel, and lithium, which although are abundant in Earth, require deep mining and cause many polluting effects. Additionally, charging these large batteries with electricity can be a very polluting process as well. Although this is in rare cases, in countries whose electric supply relies vastly on coal like China, gasoline cars surprisingly become better.

Finally, 99% of the components of lead-acid-based batteries in conventional cars get recycled after usage. Lithium, on the other hand, is not very promising in the market, where only 5% of it was resold in the EU market with the rest was abandoned in landfills.

After listing the common problems of EVs (electric vehicles), let us clarify how it compares to original cars. Although immense amounts of CO2 are used during the manufacturing process as mentioned previously, electric-powered cars can save us vast harm upon usage relative to combustion engines cars. For example, EVs use about 10 metric tons of carbon dioxide during manufacturing and almost 0 emissions during customer use. However, gas and petrol cars use more than 40 metric tons during customer use! So, the only downside of EVs is the massive lithium use during the manufacturing process, which is nothing compared to impacting the ozone by emissions of gasoline cars. Most companies are even starting to search for safer options instead of REEs and the impacts of sourcing them.

So, what is the silver lining? As we can see, EVs are not 100 percent sustainable; however, it is significantly better than most gas cars. Thankfully, most cities and countries have been going for EVs. The London city center provides a fine for every gas-powered car entering its premises. Iceland's most sold car is the Tesla Model 3. Based on Energy.gov, there are more than 68,800 thousand electric car stations in the US alone, which is fairly enough to guarantee that every city has at least a station in every area.

In conclusion, there is great potential for improvement and a promising future for EVs, making them multiple times better for our Earth.