5 reasons EVs and their batteries are not environmentally friendly

5th October 2022
Paige West

Over a million electric vehicles (EVs) are registered nationwide, and next year anticipates more coming onto the asphalt. More EVs can mean a few things for the world. It could mean that more people are fighting climate change or air pollution, or it may mean that production costs have lowered to an affordable range.

EVs have many great attributes, like quick charging, cameras, self-driving, and other optional features. Further, because of their green driving process, they are considered the ‘environmentally-friendly’ option for vehicles. In terms of green emissions given off while driving, they are. However, not all parts of their process are polished to such statuses:

1. Manufacturing process of EVs is not eco-friendly

Traditional vehicles' manufacturing was never eco-friendly until regulation demanded that they be. The manufacturing process of a conventional car and an EV works in much the same way:

  • Raw materials are sourced and extracted.
  • Those extracted raw materials are refined.
  • The refined materials are sent to a company to be manufactured.
  • Manufacturers produce single items or products, which they must assemble.

In traditional vehicles and EVs, the byproducts of the manufacturing process are grueling. However, there is a significant difference: EVs produce more carbon emissions than conventional cars when being manufactured. This is due to manufacturing lithium-ion batteries, which require substantial rare earth materials (more below).

2. The electricity of charging EVs is generated by burning fossil fuels

Many tout EVs as the ‘zero-emission’ option for hitting the roads; unfortunately, this isn’t the case, as implied above. EVsgive off emissions, but not while driving; they do it in the manufacturing phase, when generating energy, and when their batteries aren’t recycled. Thus, EVs are ‘zero tailpipe emission’ cars, not ‘zero-emissions’ cars.

Once the cars are in the hands of the public, emissions are still a worry when charging the vehicle. Energy production methods vary significantly by location and industry regulations; in one region, this could mean a field of giant wind turbines; in another, this could mean fossil fuels running through the gnarled veins of a power plant. An EV that runs on traditional power production methods is more environmentally harmful than the petrol option.

3. Production of lithium-ion batteries causes carbon emissions

EVs use lithium-ion batteries to operate – these are much larger versions of the batteries within our phones and laptops. Although admittedly, there is also different chemistry involved. Lithium batteries involve rare materials like:

  • Lithium: harvested through underground reservoirs or mined as ore
  • Graphite: surfaced mined as a raw ore using extraction machines
  • Nickel: extraction methods of mineral deposits produce nickel as a byproduct
  • Cobalt: mined underground and at surface level, usually to get to other materials

Carbon emissions during these processes aren’t the only worry the public should be concerned about; some underground deposits of these rare materials are radioactive, particularly in China. Further, the extraction process of these materials involves a high-temperature process called smelting, which impacts air pollution in mining areas. Lastly, these batteries also use 50% more water than traditional cars – because no water goes into making an engine.

4. Batteries of EVs are not recycled

One should not read the subtitle to mean that people aren’t recycling them; about 5% of road EV batteries are recycled with great effort. The small percentage is due to multiple factors, including whether there are benefits to reusing these rare materials. This uncommitted relationship (rare materials being worth reuse or not) has resulted in few green disposal regulations. Not to mention, the batteries that aren’t recycled (the other 95%) end up in hazardous waste landfills – but ‘zero emissions!’

As it is now, lithium-ion batteries from EVs are considered rarely recyclable. The process is time draining, expensive, and laborious. Part of this is the industry’s relatively new; the future could look green if lead-acid battery recycling rates are anything to go on.

5. EVs reduce but don’t eliminate noise pollution

Another myth that surrounds EVs is their ‘elimination of noise pollution’. EVs are far quieter than traditional engines (as there is no combustion stage); however, they do not eliminate noise pollution. There will always be elements outside of a car that one should consider; the EVs’ tires will make a sound, and there will always be wind as a byproduct of driving at high speeds. EVs cannot eliminate noise pollution any more than they are ‘zero-emission’; they can greatly reduce the noise pollution created by traditional traffic.

EVs are deceivingly quiet – they emit a frequency of only 56 decibels. That is the equivalent of an electric toothbrush when turned on. Compare this to the 30 decibels of a whisper or the 70 decibels of a vacuum. EVs do not eliminate noise pollution, but they are a considerable step in quieting environments filled with it.

Green cars are great at many things but aren’t completely zero-emission

Green cars are likely to be the future of travel – where they are now is only a step in the process. They can drive without emitting CO2, but it is incorrect to call them completely zero-emission. EVs have come a long way, but there is more work to be done; pollution from EV car and battery manufacturing, energy production, and recycling may pollute the environment more than petrol cars.

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