What are the benefits of electric cars for the environment?
A huge driver of climate change is the amount of carbon we release into the atmosphere, and in the UK a third of our carbon emissions in the UK come from transport. It’s well known that EVs don’t release carbon emissions when they’re driving. Compare that with petrol cars, which emit on average 1.7 tonnes of carbon every year, and it’s clear that EVs come out tops.
But there are other, lesser known reasons why EVs are beneficial for the environment. Let’s bust some myths and get to the truth.
OK so EVs don’t emit tail-pipe emissions, but do they pollute the environment in other ways?
What about the fluids it takes to keep a petrol or diesel car going? Electric cars don’t need oil, another fossil fuel that needs to be transported around the world to be used. Another tick for EVs.
Some electric vehicles also use what’s known as regenerative braking to slow down. This is when the electric motor is reversed and used to charge the battery. Using this technology, the car wears its brakes less, and less brake wear equals fewer harmful brake pad particles escaping into the environment. Tick.
Is electric car production sustainable?
So we know that EVs are more sustainable when we’re driving them. But what about building them in the first place?
Hands up, we’ll be completely honest here, we can’t escape the fact that EV batteries use materials that, while not scarce, are difficult to extract from the earth. And mining for these metals such as cobalt, lithium, nickel, magnesium and copper does create greenhouse gas emissions.
Let’s look at the numbers from the manufacturers that know EVs best. According to Volkswagen, making the battery causes 43 per cent of the entire manufacturing CO2 emissions for its ID.3. But if manufacturers use green electricity in the production process, the environmental impact drops by a lot.
Volkswagen also worked at offsetting car building emissions that can’t be avoided, like producing steel. No production of any car is fully sustainable, but some EVs are carbon neutral by the time they hit the road. VW isn’t alone. Many car manufacturers are changing the way they build batteries by finding substitutes to the metals they use that can be accessed with less environmental impact. Some are even changing where they source batteries from to reduce the overall carbon footprint of their EVs.
What happens to used EV batteries?
EV batteries are surprisingly adaptable and can be used in lots of ways, long after they’ve served as a car battery. Their lifespan is usually longer than the cars they’re used to power, and there are some creative solutions out there to make sure they’re not wasted.
Nissan is using batteries from its scrapped Leaf models to provide back-up power to the Amsterdam Arena in the Netherlands.
Toyota is installing ex-EV batteries outside convenience shops in Japan. There they will store power generated from solar panels to run drinks fridges and fresh food counters inside the shops.
Both Renault and Nissan are also using batteries from EVs for home energy storage systems. They store the power generated by solar panels for later use.
And even when the batteries can no longer be used for services like these, they won’t go to waste. The precious metals in batteries are far too valuable to be put into landfill. The batteries will be dismantled and their components recycled.
Is it sustainable to charge an EV?
Although electric vehicles generate zero emissions from driving, their overall sustainability is still impacted by the energy used to charge them. Which is why it makes sense to charge using 100% renewable energy providers wherever possible - like Octopus. But even with electricity generated by non-sustainable sources, the EEA says the energy consumption of driving an EV is much lower than that of a petrol or diesel car.
Are electric cars better for the environment?
In short, yes. With zero exhaust emissions, it’s difficult to argue against EVs when it comes to decarbonising road transport and fighting against climate change. Zero tail-pipe emissions, reduced pollutants from braking, batteries that can be used for so many things and even components that can be recycled. Big ticks in the environmentally friendly boxes for EVs.