Electric vehicles scar the environment – Mackinac Center

Electric vehicles are marketed as having negligible impacts on the planet when compared to standard cars. However, electric vehicles have significant environmental drawbacks. They are proving to have at least as much environmental impact as conventional vehicles due to the demands of power supply, manufacturing processes, materials extraction, and waste disposal.

While electric vehicles may not emit carbon dioxide during normal operations, the power sources that charge their batteries commonly do. The majority of electric vehicles are charged using power generated by fossil fuels, according to the Institute for Energy Research, which points to a Cowboy State Daily article describing how powering the 98 charging bays in the world’s largest Tesla charging station “takes something solar can’t provide — diesel generators.”

The power demand of large-scale EV adoption “far outweighs the capacity of politically correct renewable sources” and will require major upgrades and expansions to keep the electrical grid reliable. As a result, the Institute suggests that a more appropriate name for electric vehicles is “external combustion engine” vehicles. Despite their clean appearance, they still require significant carbon dioxide emissions to operate.

Electric vehicle manufacturing is also heavily dependent on carbon-emitting power. Heritage Foundation research explains that the carbon dioxide emitted while manufacturing a Nissan Leaf battery is “equivalent to driving a gasoline-powered BMW 320d for 24,000 miles.” For a larger Tesla Model S battery, carbon dioxide emissions are “equivalent to driving the BMW 320d for 60,000 miles.”

Battery production lines are so energy-intensive that one battery factory forced Evergy, a Kansas-based utility, to keep a coal-fired power plant running to provide power. About 70% of electric vehicle batteries and their components are made in China, which derives the vast majority of its energy from fossil fuels, specifically coal. Furthermore, the manufacturing process for these batteries is far less efficient than the manufacturing process for batteries used in conventional vehicles.

The components of electric vehicles also have an environmental cost. “About 40% of the climate impact from the production of lithium-ion batteries comes from the mining and processing of the materials needed,” according to the Institute for Energy Research.

However, the environmental impact of EV battery components encompasses more than greenhouse gas emissions.

Mining and other processes are used to extract materials such as lithium and cobalt from the ground. Lithium is often collected through brine extraction, a process in which “a large amount of water is pumped into salt flats, bringing saltwater containing minerals to the surface.” This process can contaminate groundwater supplies. Additionally, more than half the world’s lithium is located in “the Andean Mountain sections of Argentina, Bolivia, and Chile.” and brine extraction could consume 65% of the water in this high desert region.

In the same vein, Siddharth Kara’s book, Cobalt Red describes the extreme human and environmental costs of the euphemistically named “artisanal mining” that occurs in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Entire regions of the nation, including forests and water resources, have been ravaged and polluted to provide much of the world’s supply of cobalt. Without this metal, the vast majority of battery production for electric vehicles would falter.

Finally, the disposal of EV batteries and their components presents a major risk to the environment. According to Science magazine, if the battery ends up in a landfill, “its cells can release problematic toxins, including heavy metals” that can leach into landfills or groundwater. Cost, environmental risk, and fire hazard currently keep most of the world’s lithium batteries from being recycled.

Advocates describe electric vehicles as a potentially planet-saving technology, but widespread adoption of these machines would do vast economic and environmental damage. Power supply for charging, electricity generation, manufacturing processes, and environmental concerns surrounding the excavation and disposal of battery components all must be addressed. Until they are, electric vehicles cannot reasonably be viewed as the next step in green transportation – despite what the government, green special interests, and automobile manufacturers would like you to believe.

Permission to reprint this blog post in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author (or authors) and the Mackinac Center for Public Policy are properly cited.

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