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In a world where sustainability and carbon emission reduction are everyday concerns, electric vehicles (EVs) are marketed as the miracle cure for climate change. But what if I told you that this is not entirely true? Yes, hold on tight because this will be surprising. According to a Volvo report, manufacturing an electric car pollutes 70% more than a gasoline car. How does that make you feel?

The carbon footprint in vehicle production

The popular belief that electric cars do not pollute is a big lie. While it is true that they emit fewer pollutants during use, the carbon footprint they leave throughout their lifecycle, from production to disposal, makes you think twice before rushing to buy one.

Volvo, always at the forefront of electromobility, conducted a comparative study between two of its models: the electric C40 Recharge and the gasoline XC40. Both cars are built on the same platform and share many parts. This study takes into account the complete lifecycle of the cars: raw materials, production process, power (electricity and fuel), driving over 200,000 kilometers, and final disposal of the vehicles.

Production emissions: 70% higher

Attention, because here comes the bombshell. According to the report, the production emissions of a C40 Recharge are 70% higher than those of a gasoline XC40. Why? Because of the high emission levels of battery and steel production processes, and the higher proportion of aluminum used in the vehicle. If we remove the batteries from the equation, the 70% emission increase drops to 30%. In other words, an electric car reaches the dealership with a much larger CO2 footprint than an internal combustion car.

The race to reduce emissions: Kilometers needed to compensate

So when does an electric car become more environmentally friendly than a gasoline one? Well, it depends. If we consider the global energy mix, where fossil fuels predominate, an electric car needs to travel 110,000 kilometers for its carbon footprint to be smaller than that of an internal combustion car. This number drops to 77,000 kilometers in the EU energy mix and to 49,000 kilometers if the car is powered by wind energy.

Charging: a decisive factor

The type of electricity recharge is crucial in the carbon footprint of an electric vehicle. In Spain, where much has been invested in solar and wind energy, the amount of carbon saved by driving an electric car depends heavily on the time of day it is recharged. According to a Radiant Energy Group report, charging the car in the afternoon, when the sun and wind are at their peak, saves between 16% and 18% more carbon than doing so at night, when grids are more likely to be powered by gas or coal.

Ecological impact of battery manufacturing

The manufacturing of batteries for electric cars has several significant ecological impacts. And no, it’s not a fairy tale. Here are the details:

Raw material extraction

Electric vehicle batteries need lithium, cobalt, nickel, and manganese. The extraction of these materials can cause environmental disasters: habitat degradation, water and air pollution, and social and human rights issues in the mines. Lithium mining, for example, can deplete local water sources and salinize the soil, affecting nearby farming communities.

Energy consumption in production

Battery manufacturing is an energy-intensive process. Refining materials and producing battery cells generate a significant carbon footprint, especially if the energy comes from fossil fuels. In many regions, battery production still relies heavily on coal and natural gas, contributing to high CO2 levels.

Greenhouse gas emissions

Although electric cars do not emit gases while operating, their battery production does. These emissions can offset the climate benefits of switching to electric vehicles, especially if the batteries are produced in places where electricity is generated from fossil fuels.

Water and other resource use

Battery production requires large amounts of water and other resources, which can affect local communities and ecosystems. For example, lithium mining in arid regions competes with local communities’ and ecosystems’ water needs.

Recycling and disposal

Recycling electric vehicle batteries is crucial to mitigating environmental impacts. Batteries contain toxic materials and are challenging to recycle efficiently. Inadequate management can lead to environmental pollution. Currently, battery recycling is expensive and complicated, and the lack of recycling infrastructure could cause serious environmental problems in the future.

Battery durability: Another underestimated problem

Let’s touch on another hot topic: battery durability. According to a Volkswagen report, an electric car battery is estimated to last at least eight years or 150,000 kilometers, translating to about 3,000 charge cycles. Some brands even offer more generous warranties, such as a lifetime battery warranty.

Now, the trick is that after those 150,000 kilometers or eight years, the battery starts to lose capacity. It is estimated to reduce to 75%, meaning that although it still has life ahead, its performance significantly diminishes.

So, if we consider that an electric car needs to travel 110,000 kilometers for its carbon footprint to be smaller than that of an internal combustion car, and knowing that battery life is 150,000 kilometers, under this capacity reduction, does it make sense to say that an EV is more environmentally friendly? It seems that not everything is as simple as it seems. To protect your electric car purchase, it is vital to read the warranty carefully. Some manufacturers only cover the battery pack in case of total failure, while others offer replacement if capacity falls below a certain percentage. Be careful with that!

Public policies and electromobility: Wise decisions?

Given the complexity and challenges of electric vehicles, are current public policies really on the right track? Electrifying the automotive fleet is a priority for many governments, but the shortcomings of these vehicles, such as limited range and charging problems, must be considered.

There are documented cases of police officers unable to patrol because their electric cars run out of battery. These incidents show that we need to critically evaluate the feasibility of a rapid transition to electrification without first addressing the fundamental problems.

A holistic approach to sustainable mobility

The manufacturing and use of electric vehicles present a paradox in the sustainability debate. Although these vehicles can significantly reduce emissions during use, the carbon-intensive production processes and the challenges of battery durability and recycling must be addressed for EVs to be truly sustainable.

Policymakers must consider these factors and develop strategies that not only promote the adoption of electric vehicles but also improve production process efficiency, optimize clean energy charging, and establish robust battery recycling infrastructure. Only then can we move towards truly environmentally friendly mobility.

Furthermore, consumers need to be well-informed about the total environmental impact of electric vehicles, from manufacturing to final disposal. Only then can they make responsible decisions that contribute to a more sustainable future.

Ultimately, the solution to the carbon emissions problem in transportation is not just adopting electric vehicles but transforming our production, consumption, and waste management systems. Only with a holistic and coordinated approach can we achieve truly sustainable mobility.

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