Electric Cars; the Answer or the Problem?
“The time is right for electric cars – in fact the time is critical” Ghosn, (2012). Most people in North America took this to be a fact. In a world where our environment is being decimated, can we afford to blindly believe what the media tells us? In essence, the electric car seems like a perfect, environmentally friendly idea. It doesn’t use gas, which according to the United States Environmental Agency (2005) accounts for 75% of air pollution. Unfortunately it’s not that simple. There are a variety of factors that determine the feasibility of electric cars and the benefit they can provide for us. Why not electric cars? If not electric cars, then what? We must figure out what the best alternative for our transportation is. We need to invest in an infrastructure that will help our environment, not hinder it. Change needs to be accepted by all people in order to move towards a green future of sustainability.
The main difference of petrol powered car (gas or diesel) and an electrically powered car is its source of power. The gas car uses an internal combustion engine while the electric car uses an electric motor. What is important about the differences are the contrasts of how it is made and what resources are needed to create it. An engine of a gas car is quite simple to make. A Citroen C1, an average European hatchback emits 6 tons of Carbon Monoxide into the environment upon completion of its manufacturing process. Carbon Monoxide, also known as CO2, is the main pollution that cars emit into the air. A similar size electric car would put 17 tons of CO2 into the air.(Berners-Lee & Clark, 2010) It would take roughly 100 000 KM of driving for an electric car to make up that gap and become more beneficial for the environment than a gas car (Wilson, 2014). Gas powered cars also cost significantly less to make because they lack the rare, expensive elements that are found in car batteries. A typical gas car could make it to 200 000km quite easily, while an electric vehicle isn’t popular over 100 000km, yet (O’Dell, 2012). According to Jim Motavi of Tesla Roadster, the charging capacity of the batteries are expected to tail off quite sharply after 100 000km, meaning replacement batteries for those who can afford it. The technology being produced is neither sustainable nor is it financially feasible for the general public. Change needs to make sense for all of us to be able to flourish. The electric cars battery limits the potential of the electric car.
We have yet to see the effect of many years of driving on the battery, because the technology is so new. What is known is that each battery is an extensive, carbon heavy process to create. With people needing to replace electric car batteries before a gas engine would need replacing, therefor it makes them much less efficient. Equally there are harmful effects of Lithium ion batteries:
“Researchers found that batteries using cathodes with nickel and cobalt and solvent-based electrode processing are the highest risks for negative health and environmental impacts. These impacts are a result of the production, processing and use of cobalt and nickel compounds. The environmental impacts include resource depletion, global warming, and ecological toxicity while the health impacts are poor respiratory, pulmonary and neurological effects.” (Kaiser. (2013) Lithium Ion Batteries Can Impact Health, Environment Negatively).
The cost to recycle batteries in most countries is more than the cost of mining batteries. Most batteries go without being recycled and end up sitting in a landfill, leaching toxic chemicals into the ground. We cannot afford to let those toxic heavy metals to be released into the environment where it can damage plant growth and accumulate in the food chain. Lithium/nickel mining is a cruel job that the government extorts its own people at gunpoint to carry out: “As you crawl through the tiny hole, using your arms and fingers to scratch, there’s not enough space to dig properly and you get badly grazed all over. And then, when you do finally come back out with the [lithium source], the soldiers are waiting to grab it at gunpoint. This means you have nothing to buy food with. So we’re always hungry.” (Cox, 2006. War, Murder, Rape…All for Your Cellphone) Muhunga Kawaya used these words to describe their job to a reporter. The Democratic Republic of Congo is one of the leading exporters of required minerals for batteries. This demand for batteries has led to massively rising crime and violence in the DRC, One of the many negative effects caused by consumerism, not only for car batteries,, but for all electronics.
Although electricity can be a sustainable source of electricity, that isn’t always the case. The problem electricity is that there is a varying rate of how green each countries power is. In some places the source of energy can vary from town to town. Green electricity, also known as renewable electricity has to be sustainable and low carbon. Solar, Hydro and Geothermal are some of the greenest sources of electricity. In coal based countries like India, China and Australia, driving an electric car is worse than driving a petrol based car. In the picture below it shows the Electric car emissions in grams of Carbon Monoxide emitted per km:
In the red and some of the darker orange countries the amount of Co2e/km is more than a similar gas powered car would emit. In countries like Paraguay, Iceland and Brazil energy there is such low carbon that it makes it much more efficient in those countries to drive an EV compared to a petrol vehicle. On average, a petrol-based vehicle pollutes 132.2 gC02e/km. 132.2 grams of c02 puts electric cars in Finland equal with petrol (Wilson, 2014) Here in Canada we have extremely clean energy. Canadian energy in an electric car would pollute 115 grams, compared to 132 for petrol. In BC we are blessed with many resources such as rivers, where we generate 86% of our energy. This makes BC’s electricity extremely low carbon and contributes positively to our environment. (Whiticar, 2012) With Asia being the biggest market for electric cars, the problem isn’t going to be helped. China and India have some of the most coal-based energy out of all the countries, meaning it’s just as bad, if not worse than electric cars. With the demand for a clean source of transportation high, China and India need to invest in cleaner energy such as nuclear or hydro. Given Asia’s population, they cannot afford to make a switch to technology that isn’t any better for the environment when so many people would be investing in it (Johnston, 2015).
People have been trying to make positive changes to our transportation, although some people fight against environmental protection for personal wealth. From 1996 to 1999 General Motors produced an electric called the EV1. The EV1 was only on the road for 3 years until GM recalled them all. GM claims it’s because of the liability and maintenance of the car, but it is has been suspected that the oil companies threatened GM into taking the car off of the road. This way the oil companies could keep a stranglehold on our choice of transportation fuel. There are known to be lobbyists for big oil companies that can attempt to sway the government’s mind. (Hari, J. 2007)
In 2006, Volkswagen came out with XL1 diesel hybrid. What’s remarkable about the EV1 is that it has a completely overhauled drivetrain. It can get 300 mpg and according to John McIlroy of Auto Car it will emit only 24g CO2/km. Such a sophisticated drivetrain that would deliver such fuel efficiency would surely change the automotive industry. The reason it hasn’t is because once again, oil companies pressured the government into not granting it access into the US. They do this out of fear that it will make their technology and oil obsolete. Without the major car market of the US, Volkswagen doesn’t believe the car to be profitable so they won’t move to turn the plans into reality.
Electric cars may not always be the answer. They can be the answer in low carbon energy places such as Paraguay or Iceland. But when half of the world’s population is lives in high carbon energy producing countries, electric cars simply don’t help. So what can we do to reduce our carbon footprint throughout the world?
Stella is a solar powered car designed by a group of Dutch engineers. The remarkable thing about Stella is that it is a completely solar powered car, meaning you’d never have to plug it in. It can travel 500 miles on a single charge (O’Callaghan, 2014). What separates it from similar solar cars is that it can fit 5 people, making it practical as a family car.Hydrogen is another fuel for cars that is starting to be experimented with. It essentially replaces gas in a car that would look and perform the same as a regular car. Hydrogen is the most abundant element making it a viable option as fuel. Instead of polluting the earth with excess CO2 like gas cars do, it emits pure water, as it’s only tailpipe emission.What if we were all willing to sacrifice the convenience of personal transit for a better system of public transport? That’s what Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla Motors and SpaceX is proposing. His idea is to build magnetic levitation trains that run underground to get from city to city and throughout town in an extremely quick, carbon neutral way. Magnetic levitation is a technology used in China and Japan on some of their trains capable of 500km/h. The difference is that this new system would be underground and through a virtual vacuum to make it frictionless, so there is no need for a source of emissions. Out of all these ideas, Stella is quickly gaining speed towards production. The thing is, different things work better for different people. Will we ever be able to unanimously decide to make a sacrifice for the long-term benefit of all of us?
Our environment is degrading at an astonishing rate. Our destructive ways that we justify for the ‘convenience’ cannot continue. It’s become clear that we need to change. Gas powered cars are the killer and electric cars are not the savior some may think them to be. We must reinvent the way we live our lives. The problem is that so many people feel that it’s a lost cause. It’s easy to see how people think the change that they make personally won’t make a big difference is on a world scale. We cannot afford to think that way. If we do nothing it will become too late for our environment to recover. Whether it is the Stella, the Hydrogen or the Maglev Train, we need to commit to making an eco friendly mode of transport that can sustain our burgeoning population. Personally, I want to spend my life exploring the picturesque forests and stunning landscapes that we are blessed with here in beautiful British Columbia. I’m ready to rally for change so that we can move to protect our earth, are you? Through a commonly invested goal we can become influential in a societal change that will shape our future. We can not allow our future generations to be burdened down by the nature of our carelessness.
Wilson, L. (2014, January) The ‘electric cars aren’t green’ myth debunked
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Johnston, G. (January 15, 2015) Elon Musk Says World Needs Electric Cars Now More Than Ever. Retrieved from: http://www.dpa-international.com/news/asia/news-featureelon-musk-says-world-needs-electric-cars-now-more-than-everby-gretel-johnston-dpa-a-43879930.html
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Motavalli, J. (July 16, 2013) Tesla Roadster Battery Life Study: 85% Capacity after 100 000 Miles. Retrieved from http://www.plugincars.com/tesla-roadster-battery-life-study-85-percent-after-100000-miles-127733.html
O’Callaghan, J. (September 24, 2014) Meet Stella the car that drives 500 miles on a single charge. Retrieved from:http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2767806/Meet-Stella-solar-powered-car-drives-500-miles-SINGLE-charge-warns-traffic-lights-change.html