The race for greener electric vehicles | News | Eco-Business


Electric cars are selling like hot cakes. While it has taken nearly 20 years since the first mainstream models put one million battery-powered vehicles into circulation, it only took five more years for the figure to cross 10 million in 2020. Au Stronger from the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 2 million new electric drives have been sold. The figure is expected to exceed 28 million units by 2030.

In many ways, electric vehicles (EVs) are an easy sell for the world’s burgeoning middle class. They are stylish, increasingly affordable and produce no tailpipe emissions. Even if an area’s electricity is produced from coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel, electric cars in the same area will produce less emissions than gas guzzlers, according to an analysis by the Reuters news agency. after less than six years of use. With the current US energy mix of 20% renewable energy, parity can be reached within a year.

Electric vehicles also don’t produce any of the toxic gases that cause urban air pollution, one of the leading causes of premature death worldwide.

With the dazzling appeal of the market comes ambitious national goals, as governments find ways to come up with more ambitious climate plans and achieve them.

The United States wants half of all new cars to be electric by 2030. The European Union is considering a de facto ban on non-electric options by 2035. China, the world’s largest market for electric cars , called on manufacturers to release two “new energy cars” – running on electricity, hydrogen or hybrid fuels – for three petroleum-powered cars by 2030. Others like Thailand, l Indonesia and Singapore have also announced EV targets for the next decades.

It’s not about whether electric vehicles will overtake gasoline vehicles, but when. Analysts put the figure between 2030 and 2050.

No quick fix

But the stylish new outfits hide environmental costs, especially at the scale they are built at. Electric cars need more energy to build – up to 60% more in China, according to a 2017 study.

They also require a lot more unconventional materials, mainly due to their giant power bricks.

Mining for lithium, the substance that powers car batteries, is expected to increase tenfold by 2030. The metal is mined primarily in Australia and Chile, but there is a global rush to find new sources to meet on demand. Five to 15 tonnes of carbon dioxide are emitted per tonne of lithium extracted, the amount produced by about three conventional cars per year.

Other key chemicals like cobalt, mainly found in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and nickel, mined in Indonesia and the Philippines, are also linked to environmental and human rights concerns.

Clean up EV production

As these problems appear, a set of solutions is offered to resolve them. New companies are emerging to capitalize on the huge battery recycling market – only 5% of lithium is currently recovered. A recent study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that old electric car batteries could be used for more than a decade as backup devices in solar power parks.

Electric car makers are also looking to clean up their game. Some have declared net zero targets for around mid-century, which is what the United Nations says is necessary to avert a climate catastrophe.

“To become more sustainable as manufacturers of electric vehicles, we really need a boost in the industry as a whole, and we need to collaborate with each other to achieve this,” said Fredrika Klarén, responsible for sustainable development at Polestar, a newcomer to the market. the electric car market in 2017. The brand was launched in Singapore this month.

To become more sustainable as manufacturers of electric vehicles, we really need a boost in the industry as a whole, and we need to work together with each other to make it happen.

Fredrika Klarén, Head of Sustainable Development at Polestar

Polestar announced earlier this year that it plans to build a carbon-free car by 2030. The company’s latest model, the all-electric Polestar 2 fastback, produces more than 26 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions. carbon during its construction. More than a quarter of emissions come from the production of its battery. However, these emissions are negligible when the vehicle is in motion. When loaded with wind power, its total emissions drop below gasoline cars after 50,000 kilometers of mileage.

The 100% electric Polestar 2 fastback. Image: Polestar

A few weeks ago, the firm announced that it was preparing to launch an open call for research for the net zero effort, dubbed “Polestar 0”, led by its former head of research and development.

Polestar has said it will not use carbon offsetting, calling the decision to invest in carbon reduction measures elsewhere a “loophole”. Instead, it plans to use recycled materials to make batteries and other auto parts, and embrace renewables throughout its supply chain. The company currently operates one of the cleanest car manufacturing plants in China, which uses renewable energy, recycles carbon fiber waste, and produces no industrial water discharge.

Future technologies could also help electric vehicle manufacturers. Batteries powered by sodium, a substance more common than lithium, are being developed to address mining concerns. Cleaner tires, to deal with the large number of particles released by the wheels of electric vehicles due to the car’s heavier weight, are on the horizon.

Buyers know better

At the same time, consumers are increasingly demanding of their electric cars. Not just in terms of performance, but what goes into its construction.

“We are seeing an incredible increase in demand and awareness around electric vehicles in all markets. We also see in studies how this is driven by increased awareness of environmental and climate issues, and the desire of consumers to adopt more sustainable lifestyles, ”said Klarén.

To address this concern, automakers are starting to voluntarily publish life cycle assessments of their models. These reports detail the environmental impact of a product throughout its “life cycle”, from the extraction of raw materials to its manufacture, use and disposal.

Polestar released its life cycle assessment of its electric model in September last year along with its calculations. Beyond the higher manufacturing emissions, the report also showed that with the global electricity mix, made up of around 35% coal, 23% gas, 29% renewables and 10% nuclear, the Polestar’s electric car will have to travel 112,000 kilometers before it breaks down. even with an equivalent petrol car.

“We have to be honest, even if it makes it uncomfortable to read,” Polestar CEO Thomas Ingenlath said when the report was released.

Polestar said it is tracking its use of cobalt with blockchain technology to address human rights issues associated with mining, and that the monitoring will be extended to other materials in the future. The company is part of global initiatives to halve emissions by 2030 and aims to be “climate neutral” by 2040.

Meanwhile, the consensus holds – if a car is needed, an electric might be the best bet for the environment.

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