According to a recent study, electric cars, which are often perceived to have much less of an environmental impact than conventional fossil fuel-powered cars, do in fact present some serious environmental concerns over their lifetime, especially due to the materials and methods used during their production. Compared to conventional vehicles, which normally experience 10 percent of their life-cycle global warming potential (GWP) during the production phase, electric vehicles experience nearly 50 percent of their lifetime GWP potential during that same phase. Manufacturing electric engines and batteries, which contain heavy metals that produce toxic byproducts, is far more environmentally exhaustive than producing conventional vehicle components. Clearly, the lower emissions produced by electric cars make up for the high level of global warming potential generated up front, but, according to the study, not enough to declare them significantly more environmentally friendly than conventional vehicles. In fact, diesel-powered conventional vehicles were shown in some cases to actually have a lower lifetime environmental impact than electric cars.
The study discusses the concept of “problem-shifting,” which it argues applies to electric vehicles because they reduce emissions on the road while failing to reduce levels at the factory stage, resulting in only a slight reduction in total emissions generated. In addition, the fact that electric engines and batteries contain higher levels of scarce metals means that the potential for widespread metal depletion is a legitimate concern as well.
The study, entitled, “Comparative Environmental Life Cycle Assessment of Conventional and Electric Vehicles,” was published on Oct. 4 in the Journal of Industrial Ecology.
Source: Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association news