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Are electric vehicles that much better for the environment?

Are electric vehicles that much better for the environment?

Alternatively fuelled vehicles, including both pure and hybrid electric vehicles, accounted for 6% of the 2018 market share in the UK. These vehicles have seen a gradual rise in recent years, only accounting for 1.4% of the market in 2013. While diesel cars have seen a decline since 2014, as the population become more aware of the impacts of greenhouse gas emissions.

The increased uptake of electric vehicles has prompted the rise in charging stations, with over 14,000 stations being available in 2018. 

Since their rise, electric vehicles have been labelled as the ‘transport for the future’. However, many have critiqued the perception they are ‘clean’- so are electric vehicles that much better for the environment?

The production of batteries for electric vehicles presents many issues. It has been estimated the process of producing the battery produces 150-200 kg of carbon dioxide equivalent per kilowatt-hour of produced battery, according to a report by IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute. 

Other concerns with the production process, is the materials that are used. The materials include rare metals, which exist in small quantities and are found in remote locations. This presents issues in the increased footprints the mining companies will make in search of the metals.

Francis Condon, an energy and mining analyst, warns of the dangers associated with finding these raw materials: “We're starting to see new sources being found and smaller mining companies and also non-mining companies getting involved. Some of these opportunities are arising where environmental codes are not as strong and social settings not as protective or inclusive. It's a combination of risks."

It is estimated that the pollution from the extraction and production of batteries for electric vehicles is currently on par or slightly higher than the manufacturing process of petrol or diesel-based engines. 

Another area of contention is the source of the power that is fuelling the car. Currently, gas is the main source of electricity generation in GB- accounting for just under 40% of production in the 4th quarter of 2018. Gas is an unsustainable method of producing electricity and contributes significantly to the UK’s emissions. In 2017, gas produced 164 MtCO2 (metric tonnes of carbon dioxide) accounting for 42% of emissions.

However, electricity generated from wind and solar power is on the rise. Thus, there is a reason to be optimistic that in the future, when there is adequate storage for renewable energy and they have been scaled up, that electric vehicles could be run on 100% renewable energy.

A huge advantage to electric vehicles, compared to petrol/diesel combustion engines, is that they emit no tailpipe emissions. They will ultimately produce pollution from tyre and brake dust, but the total emissions produced when they on the road is significantly reduced. This will result in less air pollution in our cities, where there are major issues and concerns with the current levels.

Electric vehicles, currently, still have lower carbon footprints than the average car. Ultimately, this cannot hide the fact that their current production is far from perfect. However, with increasing uptake of electric vehicles and decarbonisation of the electricity grid, they are likely to become more efficient and sustainable. They are by no means perfect but offer a great option for reducing emissions and creating healthier city environments.

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