Does your EV really keep environment carbon-free?  

By - Nitish Kumar


  • Electric vehicles need charging from time to time, and the electricity used may not come from non-polluting sources.
  • EVs require more critical metals than conventional vehicles, and the mining of these metals creates pollution.
  • The recycling of used batteries in EVs is another area that needs proper addressing to reduce the pollution related to EVs.

The popularity of electric vehicles (EVs) has skyrocketed since their first launch for consumers nearly a decade ago.

Most of the EVs that are on the production line or are lined up for production in coming months have already been sold. If you want to buy an electric car today, your waiting period will be probably more than six months.

Also read: From Toyota to Audi: How leading carmakers are planning to go 100% electric

What is it that attracts people to buy electric-powered vehicles? Are they rising fuel prices? Probably not. It may be one of the reasons, but the most important factor is the feeling of contributing to the cause of climate change.

Electric vehicles have zero tailpipe emissions. However, the electricity used to charge an EV can create carbon pollution. The amount of pollution varies greatly depending on how the local energy is generated. Is it coal or natural gas, which emit carbon pollution, or renewables such as wind and solar, which do not produce carbon?

Image source: ID 116816412 © Nitsuki|

Even taking these electric emissions into account, research shows that an EV is generally responsible for lower levels of greenhouse gases (GHGs) than a conventional new gasoline vehicle. To the extent that renewable energy sources such as wind and solar are used more to generate electricity, the total GHG associated with electric vehicles could go down further.

Several studies have shown that the production of a typical electric vehicle (EV) can result in more carbon pollution than the production of a conventional vehicle. This is due to the additional energy required to produce lithium-ion batteries.

However, over the life of the vehicle, total GHG emissions associated with manufacturing, charging, and driving an EV are typically lower than total GHG emissions associated with a gasoline vehicle.

Indeed, electric vehicles do not emit exhaust gases and produce far fewer greenhouse gases during operation. The batteries that electric vehicles run on are made from raw materials, such as lithium, which must be extracted from the earth’s surface and processed.

Notably, the extraction and processing of these metals and minerals account for 26% of global carbon emissions. Mining for raw materials to produce EVs also has potential to pollute air and water resources and is often an energy- and water-intensive activity.

For instance, cobalt mining produces hazardous waste and slag that can leach into the environment. Nearly 70% of the global cobalt is currently extracted in the Republic of Congo, an African nation accused of violating human rights and employing children for mining activities. Also, artisanal mining is very rampant in the country, leading to more severe environmental issues.

Extracting metals from their ores also requires a process called smelting, which can release sulphur oxides and other harmful air pollutants. Also, smelting is an energy-intensive process and again the source of the electricity used can be polluting in itself.

EVs can become greener in future

As most countries are on the path of changing their energy mix and switching to less-polluting energy sources such as natural gas and renewables, electricity generation will become cleaner.

Moreover, the mining space around the world is investing in sustainability. This indicates that mines of the future will produce fewer byproducts and use innovative methods to extract ores and convert them into useful metals.

Also, the recycling of lithium batteries is an important aspect of using an EV. At present, only 5% of the total used lithium batteries are recycled, thus posing serious environmental threats if not disposed of properly. Several projects are being initiated to develop technologies to extract useful metals from lithium batteries to be reused. This will lower the overall demand for new metals from the mining sector and could ultimately lead to lower mining-related pollution.   

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