With the rapid expansion of the green-energy space, many consumers are considering environmentally friendly alternatives to the products they purchase. One of the leaders in the growing energy-conscious market is the electric vehicle, or EV, industry. EVs help reduce air pollution by eliminating CO2 emissions during travel and lowering the driver’s carbon footprint. But are they entirely environmentally friendly? Here are four ways EVs actually harm the environment.
While the cars themselves produce zero emissions, the process of making EVs is far from carbon neutral. Electric vehicles are made in much the same way as internal combustion engine (or ICE) cars; raw materials are extracted and refined, followed by component assembly in a factory. Not only is the process similar, but some studies have even found that EV battery manufacturing creates higher emissions than manufacturing the vehicle itself.
Lithium mining, a key part of manufacturing almost every kind of electric vehicle, is also harmful to the environment. There are a number of side effects of mining for lithium, including:
- Ground Destabilization
- Loss of Biodiversity
- Rising Salinity in Fresh-Water Rivers
- Soil Contamination
- Toxic Waste
- Loss of Potable Water
Electric energy is a great power source and, in theory, very eco-friendly. Unfortunately, many of the ways we produce this energy come from burning fossil fuels. Coal, gas, and oil are three of the primary ways we generate electricity, each having a distinctly negative impact on the environment. While EVs don’t pollute during travel, the power plants used to create their electricity do.
Faulty chargers can also be a problem, which can destroy the protection circuit that keeps a battery secure. These subpar charges can also affect the housing of a battery, causing lithium to leak out into the vehicle’s surroundings.
3. Lithium-Ion Batteries Production
One of the biggest issues with the carbon footprint of the EV industry is lithium-ion batteries. These rechargeable batteries are the foundation of your average electric vehicle, and their production involves harvesting raw materials like cobalt and lithium. This mining and refinement process both cause a significant amount of carbon emissions, in some cases outstripping even that of ICE vehicle production. In addition to wasteful manufacturing, lithium-ion batteries come with a distinct set of disadvantages.
Lithium-Ion Batteries Pose a Fire Risk
Lithium-ion batteries have been known to catch fire and even explode in some circumstances. These incidents usually come as a result of factory defects or external damage, though they have been known to occur due to issues with the battery’s software. No matter what the cause, these batteries have the potential to be a hazard. Fortunately, some manufacturers perform a vehicle recall check and recall the cars with defective batteries before anyone gets hurt.
Lithium-Ion Batteries Have Voltage Limits
While lithium-ion batteries can be a powerful tool, providing enough energy to run a car for many miles, there is a distinct upper limit to their voltage. Depending on the type of battery, this is usually between 2.5 volts and 4.35 volts. Exceeding this voltage limit can damage the battery, eventually compromising its integrity. Overcharging can increase the pressure and cause thermal runaway, which has been known to make batteries catch on fire.
Internal Short Circuits in Lithium-Ion Batteries
Depending on how the battery is handled and charged, lithium-ion can overfill the battery and cause internal short circuits. This stresses the battery’s structure, damaging the internal insulation and causing metal deposits to build up in between its electrodes. After enough time, this will stop the battery’s function, damaging your vehicle in the process.
4. Challenges of Battery Recycling
Despite the high value of lithium, many lithium-ion batteries are not recycled. This is due to the complexity of the recycling process and how few processing centers have the equipment necessary to complete the task. Lithium is highly reactive, so using traditional recycling could cause an increased chance of fire or explosion. For lithium to be recycled properly, you need highly qualified professionals using specialized tools, something most areas can’t afford. Therefore, many batteries end up getting dumped where most recyclable material goes: a landfill.
Despite Their Advantages, EVs Still Have Their Issues
There is no denying that EVs don’t emit CO2 during travel, and as technology advances, they will be an essential tool in the fight against climate change. Unfortunately, as they stand now, EVs’ manufacturing and batteries stop them from being true zero-emission vehicles. In some ways, particularly with their manufacturing, EVs can actually pollute more than your standard ICE vehicle.
There is a significant danger posed by certain components of these vehicles, and not just to the environment; millions of EVs have been recalled since their debut due to various safety-related issues. If you own an EV, it’s always best to run a vehicle recall check. The advantage of performing a vehicle recall check is that you can see any defects your car may have and catch a problem before it becomes a disaster.
Patrick Peterson is a content manager at GoodCar. Born and raised in the automotive world, he’s an enthusiastic expert who writes exquisite content pieces about everything related to cars and bikes.
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