Are Electric Vehicles Catalysing the Fight Against Pollution?

red sedan on road

Background
In situations where the climate is varying like the colour of a chameleon, the precipitation has not ceased even in the month of November, the pollution levels are at peak with the Air Quality exceeding the hazardous level; the primary concern is to save the environment.
We are living in an era of technology where technological innovations are completely redefining the world. Electrical vehicles have shown up as one such brilliant innovation that appeals to be eco-friendly owing to the ability to limit the excessive greenhouse gas emissions by fuel operated vehicles. 
Because of the environmental concerns created out of the population boom and increasing pollution levels, the demand for electric vehicles is on the rise. The big automobile companies have started investing heavily in Electric Vehicles (EV). Chevy Bolt and Tesla have already taken strides in increasing their efficiency in energy density. 

Which vehicles are considered electric vehicles?
E-Vehicles are the vehicles which use an electric motor instead of an internal combustion engine for propulsion. The following class of vehicles come under the category of EVs :
  • Battery electric vehicles using a battery to provide power to an electric motor. Example - Tesla
  • Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles using both internal combustions as well as battery power. They can travel a specific distance by the battery generated power. Toyota Prius comes under this category which assists internal combustion and obtains gasoline mileage without the concern of the owner.

A parameter to check the environment friendliness of EVs
The companies while manufacturing Electric Vehicles market them using the slogan ‘zero-emission vehicles’, but are they really effective in achieving an emission-free system? The question can be answered using 3 parameters:
  1. The carbon intensity of a country’s electrical grid. A grid that illuminates strong carbon intensity shows a decreased efficiency of the vehicles to cut off carbon emission. 
  2. The carbon levels can be analysed based on the intra-country electricity generation patterns.
  3. Temporal variations in the carbon levels can be checked along with the electricity grid. 

Advantages of Electrical Vehicles
Electric Vehicles are a step forward in achieving environment friendliness in the automobile industry. Slashed tailpipe pollutants particulates(soot), reduced emissions of hydrocarbons, carbon monoxides, ozone, lead and nitrogen oxides can be a point in favour of Electric vehicles being an environment-friendly solution. Further, EVs require lower operational and maintenance costs which will shift the public demand from traditional vehicles to EV in the future. 

Disadvantages
While EV on their own emit very low pollutants, they indirectly affect the environment as the electricity is produced using nuclear or fossil energy. Also, the batteries used in EVs generate pollution. Controversial cases of ozone production have surrounded EVs and the potential hazards of ozone on the ground level are a threat. With increasing EV usage, rare earth metals such as neodymium, lanthanum, dysprosium are being exploited along with Lithium and Cobalt. These metals are not easily accessible and are present in limited numbers. 

Battery concerns 
Aluminium and carbon-fibre reinforced polymers are used in batteries that require a lot of energy for production and processing. Permanent magnet motors and induction motors are two types of motors used of which the permanent magnet motor uses rare metals. The mining of metals such as Lithium, Copper and Cobalt need stacks of energy and release toxic compounds. Heavy usage of batteries also has an effect on the tyres which emit pollutants in the form of particulate matter. These disadvantages need to be taken care of before EVs can be adopted as a green method of transport. 

Facts:
  • In 2016, the report "Comparative life cycle assessment of hydrogen, methanol and electric vehicles from well to wheel" mentioned that electric vehicles yield higher human toxicity values due to the respective manufacturing and maintenance stages. 
  • In 2017, a report made by IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute calculated the CO2 emissions of lithium-ion batteries are in the order of 150–200 kilos of carbon batteries equivalents per kilowatt-hour battery.


Conclusion
It can be concluded that EVs are not ideally ‘zero-emission vehicles’. The CO2 release depends on the season and the time period for which the batteries are charged and the indirect emissions from EVs are a concern. New ways of producing electricity for EVs need to be looked at by considering renewable and sustainable energy forms for the same. Even along with these concerns, one thing can’t be argued that EVs are better when compared to traditional ICE vehicles. Although not completely zero-emission, they are surely the next step to zero-emission. 

- Arpita Tiwari


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Are Electric Vehicles Catalysing the Fight Against Pollution? Are Electric Vehicles Catalysing the Fight Against Pollution? Reviewed by EMN on November 07, 2019 Rating: 5

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