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Published On: Mon, Sep 16th, 2019

Environmental Aspect: Are Electric Vehicles Really Environmentally Friendly?

The arrival of electric cars has been well-publicized and celebrated, particularly amongst those wealthy enough to buy into the trend. Only a few years after the new models’ introduction to the market, some countries have already seen tens of thousands of electric cars sold as consumers rush to decrease their eco-footprint and cut their ties with petrol stations. Given the huge claims made about the superior eco-friendliness of electric cars compared with petrol and diesel models, it’s a great time to be examining the virtuous claims made by the manufacturers of these new cars.

What’s so bad about petrol models? 

As a derivative of crude, petrol is a finite resource found underground. The process of extracting it from the earth is not only unnatural, but also potentially life-threatening to a range of earth-dwelling ecosystems, and that’s only the tip of the fossil lump. Once petrol has been extracted, burning it in an engine releases tonnes of toxic gas into the atmosphere, and the problem is growing every day – in fact, vehicles account for as much as one-third of the air pollution hanging over the US. In case that isn’t concerning enough, keep in mind that the parts of the car itself also require regular servicing and replacing, sending old engine parts into landfills, where they’ll likely remain for many years. When faced with problems like these, it’s no wonder a concern for the environment is the main reason why drivers are switching to electric.

photo/ Marilyn Murphy

How do electric cars run?

These new vehicular breeds may be powered by electricity, but the truth is the new designs are yet to eliminate the need for coal. Electric cars source their power through charging stations, which sounds great, but with fossil fuels still producing over 60% of the world’s electricity, there are many miles to be covered between electric vehicles and carbon-neutrality. In order to facilitate the widespread switch to electric cars, extensive new infrastructure in the form of charging ports will also be part of the package, making for what may be a long and arduous transition. 

How do electric cars compare? 

Performance is a significant consideration for many car buyers, and it has also been so for the designers of these new models. Electric cars have been designed to offer the same power and speed as petrol models and to go the distance, with a full charge expected to last for just over 300 miles (the best examples). In fact, when it comes to acceleration times, electric vehicles can trounce just about any normal petrol-powered vehicle. The main problem is the process of generating the electricity needed, which requires more energy than traditional methods of petroleum extraction. The silver lining is that electric cars use fewer kilojoules on the road, which translates to lower fuel usage, and beyond the energy cost of charging up, they make a great alternative. 

What about the production process?

Your average petrol-powered vehicle is made from a variety of environmentally-taxing materials, including rubber, glass, paint, and plastics, but none of these things will likely compare to the production costs associated with a new battery. While it’s true that the parts of electric vehicles won’t require as much servicing or as many replacements throughout the car’s lifecycle, the creation of each new battery typically generates a great deal of pollution. The batteries are made from a selection of rare-earth metals, and although this doesn’t bode well for environmental stability, there is scope to minimize the emissions resulting from battery production through smarter production strategies. 

What are the other benefits? 

When it comes to reducing the environmental footprint left by the human race, many national governments are in full support of groundbreaking initiatives like electric cars – so much so that, in many countries, there are financial incentives available to drivers who jump on the electric bandwagon. Even if money is no object, the value of convenience may well weigh into the decision. The ability to skip the petrol station and charge up from home is likely to be a strong drawcard for prospective buyers. 

Is an electric model really a solution?

Sure, when compared with petrol models, electric cars seem to offer eco-conscious drivers a host of conscience-clearing benefits. The potential concern is that we begin to view electric cars as an eco-friendly form of transport when in reality, there will always be an environmental cost to come from turning the key (or pressing a button). Even so, any reduction in the burning of fossil fuels and the emission of harmful gases is an attractive benefit to come from making the switch.

At this point, it’s purely a matter of time before electric cars take over the market. As prices gradually reduce and the infrastructure needed to support these new models becomes more commonplace, they are sure to catch on. The bottom line is, even if running a car with no coal or other earth minerals is not yet feasible, electric cars are looking like a move in the right direction.

Author: Bill Gordon

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