Assessing the Alleged Benefits of EV’s
Exposing the Electric Vehicle Fantasy – Part 2
There is a widespread perception that passenger and commercial vehicles fueled by gasoline and diesel fuel are “dirty” and that electric vehicles are “clean”. This perception has served to rationalize a wide range of government policies, programs, regulations, and subsidies that have discouraged and disadvantaged the use of internal combustion engines and promoted the sale of electric vehicles and the installation of electric refueling infrastructure at taxpayers’ expense.
Yet, if one examines the truth behind these claims, one finds that, on a life cycle basis, the production and use of electric vehicles have many adverse environmental effects.
A single electric car battery weighing 1,000 pounds typically contains about 25 pounds of lithium, 30 pounds of cobalt, 60 pounds of nickel, 110 pounds of graphite, 90 pounds of copper, and 400 pounds of steel, aluminum, and various plastic components. Extracting the key minerals (lithium, cobalt, nickel, graphite, and copper) for each battery requires mining about 90,000 pounds of ore. Removing overburden to extract these ores means digging and moving between 200,000 and 1,500,000 pounds of earth, a rough average of 500,000 pounds per battery. Moreover, the energy equivalent of 100 barrels of oil is used in the processes to fabricate a single battery that can store the equivalent of one barrel of oil.
A peer-reviewed life-cycle study comparing conventional and electric vehicles served to assess a wide range of environmental impacts.
“To begin with, about half the lifetime carbon dioxide emissions from an electric car comes from the energy used to produce the car, especially in the mining and processing of the raw materials needed for the battery. This compares unfavourably with the manufacture of a gasoline-powered car which accounts for 17% of the car’s lifetime carbon dioxide emissions. When a new EV appears in the show-room, it has already been responsible for 30,000 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions. The equivalent amount for manufacturing a conventional car: 14,000 pounds…“
Once on the road, the carbon dioxide emissions of EVs depend on the power-generation fuel used to recharge the battery. If it comes mostly from coal-fired power plants, it will lead to about 15 ounces of carbon dioxide for every mile it is driven – three ounces more than a similar gasoline powered car.”
This is a far cry from “zero emissions”.
A recent United Nations Report warned that the raw materials used in EV batteries are highly concentrated in a small number of countries where environmental, labour and safety regulations are weak or non-existent. “Artisanal” cobalt production in the Democratic Republic of the Congo now supplies two-thirds of the global output of the mineral. Many of the mines employ child labour in extremely dangerous tasks.
“Up to 40,000 children are estimated to be working in extremely dangerous conditions, with inadequate safety equipment, for very little money in the mines in Southern Katanga. The children are exposed to multiple physical risks and psychological violations and abuse, only to earn a meager income to support their families.”
There are other adverse environmental consequences at the end of the battery fuel cycle. It is difficult to recycle batteries from EVs. They pose great challenges because of their weight and complexity. It also is difficult to recover commercially useful material from spent batteries.
In short, the clean and green image of EVs stands in stark contrast to the realities of manufacturing batteries, powering them from the grid and disposing of them at the end of their useful lives.
About the Author
ROBERT LYMAN is an economist with 27 years’ experience as an analyst, policy advisor and manager in the Canadian federal government, primarily in the areas of energy, transportation, and environmental policy. He was also a diplomat for 10 years. Subsequently he has worked as a private consultant conducting policy research and analysis on energy and transportation issues as a principal for Entrans Policy Research Group. He is a frequent contributor of articles and reports for Friends of Science, a Calgary-based independent organization concerned about climate change-related issues. He resides in Ottawa, Canada. Full bio.