Fossils induced climate change has ignited a debate about the use of non-fossil driven vehicles. The diesel and petrol engine vehicles emit a number of pollutants like CO, NOx, SOx, hydrocarbons, lead and other suspended particulate matter (SPM). These pollutants released into the atmosphere not only affect the health of living life but also of physical conditions of the earth. The increase in carbon concentration increases the tapping of sunlight on earth. This increased tapping raises the earth’s temperature ultimately creating a greenhouse effect. Which brings uncountable climatic changes to earth.
So, to change this scenario, many people are debating whether to adopt Electric Vehicles. The plan is to reduce the burning of fossil fuels and create a clean mode of transportation. But is it safe to completely shift to EV? Will adopting EVs solve the climate change problem?
Electric Vehicles Are Using Clean Sources of Energy?
The most common reasoning given to use an electric vehicle is that it uses a clean source of energy. Unlike diesel and petrol engines, EVs take power from the stored electricity in rechargeable batteries. Electric engines take power from batteries and send it to rotate the wheels. Here batteries perform the main work as they store the energy and accordingly give mileage.
There is a range of battery types in EVs like lithium-ion, lithium polymer, lead-acid, nickel-cadmium, nickel-metal hydride, zinc-air and sodium nickel chloride. These batteries are categorised according to high power-to-weight ratio, specific energy and energy density. However, due to the high energy-to-weight ratio, lithium-ion and lithium polymer are the most common and frequently used batteries.
The foundational source of such batteries are lithium, nickel and cobalt. These are all metals and minerals found deep in the earth’s crust like fossil fuels. A lot of human resource as well as financial resource is needed to extract these minerals. In mining, unlimited by-products are present which cause significant environmental and health hazards. Further, reports suggest that during lithium extraction a lot of by-products like magnesium and lime waste are released which causes massive damage to the environment.
Lithium extraction contaminates water, causes respiratory problems, and has the capacity to damage the entire ecosystems. South American country Chile is the biggest example of lithium extraction induced water degradation. With 8 million tons, Chile has the world’s largest known lithium reserves. The large reserves of lithium in its Atacama Desert provided the country an opportunity to encash minerals due to the growing demands. In the process to extract lithium, private companies engaged in mining have destroyed water resources in the region.
Further, to get access to minerals like nickel, cobalt or lithium, world’s mining companies are involved in a lot of corrupt practices. Reports suggest, Dan Gertler, Israeli natural resources businessman, bribed more USD 100 million to get special access to Congo’s minion sector between 2005 to 2015. In addition to this, China processes about 90% of Congo’s cobalt with Huayou Cobalt Co as its biggest supplier. Without adopting any safety equipment, they force underage children to engage in mining activities.
The rolling mining of lithium from earth would completely damage the system. Mining of lithium is considered cheaper than recycling of lithium-ion batteries. Mainly driven by profit, companies would always choose cheaper input cost to their products. Thus, they push for mining and production of new batteries. The inefficient and old batteries become a waste. Disposal of old batteries is almost impossible considering the cost and chemicals involved. Chemicals in batteries require safe and secure disposal handling which would ultimately increase the input cost of batteries. A profit oriented private company could not afford to bear such recurring costs.
Further, when we look at the capacity and size of batteries used in cars, they are much bigger than mobile phones. Mobile phones have 3300 mAh to 5000 mAh battery capacity. When we look at the battery capacity of a car, it is around 40KWh to 100kWh. The increasing capacity requires more lithium ions, which leads to more extraction of minerals and ultimately more environmental degradation. Further, to recharge batteries on such a large scale, it would require a mass clean source of electric energy. Currently, most of the power plants are coal-based and increasing their capacity would once again increase the carbon emission.
In a way, we would come back to square one. We discontinued the use of fossil fuel vehicles to save the environment. But using EVs would once again degrade the environment.
The source of electric power in vehicles is divided into two parts, one is hydrogen-based fuel cells and the other is Lithium-based batteries. The efficiency, range, storage and availability of Hydrogen based cells are more than the Lithium-based batteries. Hydrogen fuels provide energy to weigh to a ratio ten times greater than lithium-based batteries. Hydrogen powered vehicles are efficient, high in energy storage density, lighter and have less space.
The use of Lithium will bring us back to square one as the availability of Lithium is limited on earth, and demand will further affect self-reliance. Although the lithium-based battery is a cleaner source of energy, the shelf-life of its battery is less than the Hydrogen fuel cell.
In this scenario, we must think twice before buying EVs. Is it really a renewable or clean vehicle? Will it affect the environment? Of course not. Moreover, the frequent accident caused due to carrying a complete powerhouse in the form of batteries is dangerous. Any short circuit or problem due to the naïve development of technology may endanger living lives. So, to save the environment and human lives, we must be careful in adopting EVs.
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