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article imageOp-Ed: Electric car production needs clean electricity production

By Ken Hanly     Aug 28, 2017 in Environment
While electric cars are good for the environment in that they do not have polluting exhaust as do gasoline and diesel vehicles, they nevertheless can have negative effects on the environment.
Naturally those promoting electric car sales will stress such features as their having "zero emissions". However, this ignores the fact that the production of the electricity that acts as fuel can produce significant emissions. This does not mean that overall electric cars are not much more environmentally friendly than gas or diesel powered vehicles but that to ensure maximum reduction in emissions through using electric vehicles government policy should promote clean energy production through such sources as the sun and wind.
To what degree using an electric car reduces air pollution compared to fossil fuel powered vehicles depends for the most part upon the degree to which power production in your area is dependent on coal. This article notes the differences in a number of different countries in terms both of emissions released in manufacturing the vehicle and the fuel used.
Even in California, a prime market for electric vehicles, 60 percent of electricity is produced from burning fossil fuels as of 2015 with solar and wind producing less than 14 percent. About a third of total U.S. power is generated through burning coal. Although environmentalists would like to see use of coal to produce electricity phased out, President Trump favors reviving the coal industry.
Another often neglected aspect when comparing electric with conventional cars is the large amount of energy required to produce the latter. An article in Deutsche Welle maintains that it takes more than twice the amount of energy to produce an electric car than a conventional one. To a considerable degree this is a result of the complex batteries that electric cars use. The batteries use relatively rare metals such as lithium and cobalt.
The increasing demand is having its effect on metal markets: Markets are responding. Cobalt has surged 70 per cent on the London Metal Exchange this year, after jumping 37 per cent in 2016. Lithium prices have extended gains in recent years." There are environmental issues with some of the mines involved in production of some of these metals: "Mining activities in countries like China or the Democratic Republic of Congo often cause human rights violations and vast ecological devastation: deforestation, polluted rivers, contaminated soil." In order to ensure that electric cars do not contribute to environmental problems the production of these minerals also needs to harm the environment as little as possible.
There is also the issue of disposing of the batteries after use. There is considerable research being done to find new uses for the batteries after they are no longer of use in the cars and to find ways to recycle batteries. There is also considerable research into battery technology that may result in other metals being used or the life of existing types of battery extended. Finally, policies which favor advancing electrically powered public transport are much more efficient than just promoting individual electric car ownership as is happening now in many countries.
No doubt, in time, electric cars will replace conventional cars and even hybrids, but the vast infrastructure of charging stations must be built up — although we are beginning to see the numbers of charging stations increase greatly: Nearly 16,000 public charging stations have been made available in the few short years since 2009. These stations sport an average of 2.7 chargers per unit, meaning a lot of cars can charge at the same time. In fact, with 542,000 registered EVs in the United States, this means that if all 43,000 charging connectors were used at the same time, nearly eight percent of all electric cars could be charging at once. These numbers don't include private charging or shared stations.
Some European countries are planning to ban conventional cars eventually. Britain has joined France and Norway in declaring that it would ban sales of fossil-fuel car sales in the coming decades. Volvo announced it has plans to stop producing cars with conventional combustion engines. Tesla has recently announced a new model 3 that will have a starting price of $35,000. This may help develop a mass market for electric cars.
Yet in many places, electric cars are still very slow sellers. In Germany, VW, Audi, Porsche, Mercedes and BMW all have electric cars to offer. Sales of the cars constituted only 0.6 percent of the market in the first quarter of 2015. In contrast, the figure for Norway, even further north, is about 20 percent.
There is little doubt that electric cars will eventually replace conventional fossil fuel vehicles, but it may take some time yet. And it is important there be parallel policies of producing clean electricity, mining which is environmentally responsible, and encouragement of electrically powered public transportation not just more and more private electric cars.
One of the world's biggest polluters is the U.S. military as described in a recent article. It would seem that the pollution by military vehicles, planes, tanks, etc. is not even an issue except for a few environmentalists. All the other military forces in the world also seem to be seldom criticized on the grounds of the damage their operations do to the environment and there appears little pressure for them to become more environmentally friendly.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
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