The True Cost of Electric Vehicles

The True Cost of Electric Vehicles

The True Cost of Electric Vehicles

Mihan Bandara 
Undergraduate Mechatronics Engineering Student
McMaster University
Hamilton, Canada
bandarm@mcmaster.ca    

Austin Mardon 
Faculty of Graduate Studies & Research
University of Alberta
Edmonton, Canada
mardon@ualberta.ca

Abstract - Electric vehicles are marketed as zero-emission products but power consumption and battery production produce significant amounts of greenhouse gases. This article compares the effective emissions of EVs in different regions to a comparable combustion-powered vehicle.

I.    INTRODUCTION

     The price of purchasing an electric vehicle is one of the main factors preventing the middle class from going green. EV prices have begun to become more and more affordable as manufacturers like Mini, Chevrolet, Volkswagen, Kia and Hyundai join the market. While the purchase price of EVs has been on a steady decline, concerns about the environmental cost of producing EVs and their batteries have been on the rise. 

    When consuming information regarding EVs it is essential to understand who the information is from and what alternative motives they may have. The global fuel industry is worth over $8 trillion CAD so funding anti-electric propaganda is well worth the cost. Electric vehicle manufacturer Tesla is nearing a $1 trillion market cap so pro-electric information is in their best interest. This conflict of interests combined with messy politics and gasoline loyalism makes finding accurate information difficult. This article is intended to act as a summary of some of the major environmental pros and cons that come with electric vehicles. 

II.    POWER CONSUMPTION

The environmental impact caused by the power consumption of an EV largely depends on the location. Countries like Costa Rica, Germany, Iceland, Scotland, Sweden, and Uruguay get almost all of their electricity from renewable sources like hydropower and geothermal energy [1]. In Ontario, Canada, the majority of electricity is generated from zero-carbon sources like nuclear energy [2]. The opposite is true in many oil-rich African and Middle Eastern nations like the United Arab Emirates, Qatar or Saudi Arabia where less than 0.01% of energy comes from these alternative sources [3].

    A Tesla Model S battery holds around 100 kWh of electricity. Charging this battery from empty to full would have an effective CO2 emission of 54 kg in China, 12 kg in Canada, or 1.2 kg in Sweden [4].

This vast range of values means that a Tesla in India could have an effective emission that is over 50 times as much as it would in Sweden. 100 kWh of charge will get a Tesla about 650 km of range. Taking Canada as an example, that would give the car an emissions rating of 0.01846 kg/km. A comparable gasoline vehicle to the Model S is the Toyota Camry. Using the Camry’s fuel economy of 5.1L/100km and an average of 2.3 kg of emissions per litre [5], an emissions rating of 0.1173 kg/km can be calculated. Even in a country with low effective emissions, the EV emits over 6 times less than a comparable fuel-efficient sedan. The electric car would emit 65 times less CO2 than a gasoline car in Sweden and 1.2 times less in India. A difference of only 20-50% in countries with high power generation emissions means that the switch to EVs may not be worth it just yet. In Europe and the Americas, EVs will emit an average of 200%-10,000% times less CO2 than a gasoline-equivalent. 

It is also important to consider that emissions are easier to manage when they come from one central power plant than from individual vehicles. On-road emissions also lead to smog in urban areas, which lowers the quality of the air that the population breathes.

III.    BATTERY PRODUCTION

Lithium-ion batteries are the most commonly used battery type in EVs. While their exact composition can vary, an average battery may contain 65 kg of lithium along with significant amounts of nickel, cobalt or manganese [6]. Mining and transporting these materials are detrimental to the environment. It is estimated that emissions created by battery production work out to about 0.01875 kg/km [7]. While the exact amount may slightly vary by region, it is safe to generalize this value as the global average. The emissions created by battery production are a significant factor. In countries like Paraguay, DRC, France, Norway, and Sweden the environmental impact of producing the battery will outweigh the impact of the power it will carry. 

While battery production does significantly increase the effective emissions of EVs, EVs still produce less greenhouse gas in almost all cases. Battery performance degrades over time and they will eventually need to be replaced. The good news is that batteries are over 80% recyclable. As the popularity of EVs increases, streamlined battery recycling infrastructure will make the process as efficient as possible and lower the effective emissions of EVs.

Battery production has other environmental effects other than greenhouse gas emissions. The effects include land destruction, soil degradation and water pollution. These effects are similar to the ones caused by the oil sands used to produce gasoline. The negative effects of mining should also be considered when analyzing the true cost of EVs. As the demand for materials increases, mining activities and their consequences will proportionally increase. 
    
IV.    CLOSING REMARKS

The effective emissions and environmental impact of EVs greatly vary by region. The impact of EVs will also go down as new innovated advancements are made in fields such a s battery technology, power generation, and recycling. In the current state of EV technology it is true that making the switch is not always a better environmental option, but these cases only occur in a select few countries. Factors like price, range and EV infrastructure should also be considered when purchasing an EV. All of these factors are rapdily chnaging year over year so the question should not be if the switch should happen, but when.


REFERENCES

[1]    Climate Council, “11 countries leading the charge on renewable energy,” Climate Council, 15-Aug-2022. [Online]. Available: https://www.climatecouncil.org.au/11-countries-leading-the-charge-on-renewable-energy. [Accessed: 20-Oct-2022].
 [2]    M. Bandara, “The future of Electric Vehicle Infrastructure,” Academia.edu, 11-Oct-2022. [Online]. Available: https://www.academia.edu/88303112/The_Future_of_Electric_Vehicle_Infrastructure. [Accessed: 20-Oct-2022]. 
[3]    J. Dillinger, “Which country uses the least alternative energy?,” WorldAtlas, 25-Apr-2017. [Online]. Available: https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/countries-with-the-lowest-levels-of-alternative-energy.html. [Accessed: 20-Oct-2022]. 
[4]    Our World in Data, “Carbon intensity of electricity,” Our World in Data, 2021. [Online]. Available: https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/carbon-intensity-electricity. [Accessed: 20-Oct-2022]. 
[5]    Natural Resources Canada, “Learn the facts: Weight affects fuel consumption - NRCAN,” Natural Resources Canada, 2014. [Online]. Available: https://www.nrcan.gc.ca/sites/www.nrcan.gc.ca/files/oee/pdf/transportation/fuel-efficient-technologies/autosmart_factsheet_16_e.pdf. [Accessed: 20-Oct-2022]. 
[6]    F. Lambert, “Breakdown of raw materials in Tesla's batteries and possible bottlenecks,” Electrek, 01-Nov-2016. [Online]. Available: https://electrek.co/2016/11/01/breakdown-raw-materials-tesla-batteries-possible-bottleneck/. [Accessed: 20-Oct-2022]. 
[7]    Environmental Protection Agency, “Electric Vehicle Myths,” EPA, 18-Oct-2022. [Online]. Available: https://www.epa.gov/greenvehicles/electric-vehicle-myths. [Accessed: 20-Oct-2022].

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