361 - are EV batteries not green? | Scoins.net | DJS

361 - are EV batteries not green?

For an example of what was discussed in the last essay, I saw today a post telling me that the life cycle of an EV battery has a negative effect in terms of ecological virtue, greenness or carbon balance. That is, that EV batteries are inherently 'bad'. But the piece conflated all batteries together; it ignored all the efforts to recycle battery materials and indeed made no effort at all to distinguish constituent parts. The work required to read the headline (the result) is trivial in comparison to the effort required to ascertain if any part of the statement has any validity. My conclusion was that this was put out by some effective troll, someone with a vested interest against EVs. I spent quite some time trying to find that post a second time so as to include it here.

Yet at the very same time, since I've been contemplating the eventual move to an EV, I feel the need to investigate this claim. For that, the claim is enough, the meme that EV batteries are 'bad'. The headline source gives me only the conclusion, no leads as to sources, no evidence at all. Therefore it needs to be classed as 'useless', while at the same time it continues to act like a heckler, a shout from the sidelines that one cannot easily avoid having heard and puts an idea in one's head. I'm comfortable with heckling (public criticism) that at heart says "You're not doing what you said you were doing". I dislike intensely the unsupported conclusion.

I wrote a page and saved it, but it has vanished, despite me 'save'ing the file. Fortunately the Safari history will allow me to reconstruct where I searched for material.

[1]  EV batteries not carbon neutral

[2]  https://www.yesauto.co.uk/content/article/your-electric-car-isnt-zero-emissions-heres-why-25372?utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=social-media-campaign&utm_campaign=daily-post&utm_term&_ignore=afs&pvareaid=4000766&fbclid=IwAR24pawfABN1I1OGW14uJpk7oXpQkWMH4_CxM-nmLmT9GGFlIMQ8u-VM7Qw  Looks at emissions from a 'zero emission' car.

[3]  https://youmatter.world/en/are-electric-cars-eco-friendly-and-zero-emission-vehicles-26440/ Specifically looks at EV batteries. BEV batteries, even.   Relevant here: The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) pointed out that of the 49 Gt Co2 eq released into the atmosphere in 2010, 14% was released by transportation vehicles. And despite being already a big number, this doesn’t even consider the Co2 impact of complementary activities such as manufacturing vehicles or getting road surfaces worn.  As cars make up 72% of the Co2 emissions in this sector (followed by planes, with 10%), the market of electric cars has been growing and seems to be a good solution to fight climate change. But is it true that EVs have zero emissions? Obviously (I think it is obvious) your EV will be 'greener' if your electricity supply is from renewables. In the UK that is now around 40% of the time. (source). The manufacture of an EV generates more bad stuff than for an ICE, but it doesn't take long for the ICE in use to reverse that situation and in general across its life an EV will generate half as much bad stuff. 

EV batteries require rare earth elements (REE); lithium, cobalt, nickel, graphite (these are rare earth elements? If I find that they are not, what does that do for my(or your) trust in all other statements made in this piece?) For instance, to produce 1 ton of REE, 75 tons of acid waste (that isn’t always handled in the right way) and 1 tone of radioactive residues are also made, according to the Chinese Society of Rare Earths. In spite of these pollution issues, research tells us not to worry about the availability of these rare earth elements and when it comes to lithium, there is data estimating enough worldwide reserves for the next 185 years, even if the EC market triples, according to the Deutsche Bank. As for cobalt, graphite, and nickel, they also seem to be in a comfortable situation, since the demand for the years to come is expected to stay far away from the reserves Earth has to offer. Although it looks like everything will work out just fine, let’s not forget the negative environmental impact of extracting REEs.   Apart from the weight of the REE, the energy used to produce the batteries themselves is also responsible for nearly half of their environmental impact since most of this energy doesn’t come from low carbon sources. Nevertheless, forecasts show that the electricity generation is improving and there are more renewable sources entering the grid, which would help decrease the ecological footprint of building up these batteries.     On the other hand, developing renewable energy systems has its impact as well, again using energy and REE. In the end, we should be reasonable about this and despite their initial footprint, the impact of lithium-ion batteries, when compared to conventional cars, is offset within 6 to 16 months of average driving (using clean energy) in the US or 2 years in the EU. From this moment on, EC keep being a better eco-alternative to conventional cars until their battery gets to the end of its life cycle. 

I add myself that the ability and effort to recycle the parts of any used battery needs to be included. If lithium becomes rare, then a major source of lithium (rapidly) is available in old batteries. Or, as my fingers correctly typed, betteries.

We should recognise that wanting less travel —doing less travel, using less transport—would be better for the environment. Also that mass transit systems become very cost-effective in areas of high population density (large cities, basically) and similarly all public transport is generally more efficient and less polluting (because the investment is made worthwhile spread across many people), so that the pressure to reduce climate change could easily transform into demands that we forgo private transport. there are intermediary stages like sharing, or making the Uber model very much more widespread - in a sense making the model of the taxi or the hire car into the norm, which may require us to turn 'travel' into an issue to which we happily devote a lot more time or , instead choose ways to avoid making travel at all.

That strikes me as having knock-on effects we can identify from the pandemic consequences, such as learning for ourselves what size home is 'too small', how just a little bigger could so easily translate into a measurable increase in happiness (compare the median house size in the UK with those in Denmark and Sweden, noticeably happier countries (on very little 'research'.

[4]  https://www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/attach/2015/11/Cleaner-Cars-from-Cradle-to-Grave-full-report.pdf 

Let's jump straight to P21, Fig 7 of [4], copied on the right. Here is evidence that comparable EVs are greener than their gasoline equivalents. I've for once copied the notes below the chart so you can see (and maybe believe) the authors have attempted to validate their evidence. Note also that the manufacturing emissions are roughly the same (as I had expected) until one includes the battery component. The notes indicate the expected mileage in the life of the vehicle (operation) and you see that this is the major component of emissions. What we do not see is the emissions involved in recycling the car at the life end, but it may be that we don't have enough information to work with. Yet when I have looked at other life-cycle studies, the considered end is post-recycling. Many of the points made after [3] are made again here. Does 'research' say this makes more of a case? How do we measure any class of trust in a source? I say this report is backed by loads of bibliography and available background, such that we should be able to believe its statements. It also passes the vested interest test, since the authors have no apparent interest in which way the results pan out.

[5]  https://www.greenpeace.org.uk/news/electric-cars-greener-petrol-cars/?source=GA&subsource=GOFRNAOAGA034J&gclid=Cj0KCQjwpf2IBhDkARIsAGVo0D39_Ibjcld4Ih9tUpvvkzHu0sMswRS63dxx4NQNNF3aayXzOkF6rbAaAsk5EALw_wcB  I include Greenpeace because their vested interest is in persuading all of us to act in favour of climate change reduction. They would argue that we need to use a lot less transport of all types, but they recognise that travel still needs to occur, so what they have to say about relative greenness (effects on emissions) is sure to be researched; their vested interest works in our favour. Indeed the piece here argues that we need to rethink our whole attitude to transport. Do read it yourself (it's quite short):

Are electric cars really greener than petrol or diesel cars? If you’ve ever felt confused about this question, you’re not alone. Stories about the (very real) problems with electric cars are sometimes used to argue in favour of the fossil-fuelled status quo. But the reality is that an electric car has about half the climate impact over its lifetime compared to an average EU car today.  In fact, rapidly switching from fossil fuelled cars and vans to electric vehicles is one of the most important things the government can do for the climate.  That’s because driving makes up a huge share of the UK’s carbon footprint. Right now, nearly four out of every five miles travelled in the UK happens in a car. For the past 60 years, we’ve been building our towns, cities and entire lives around widespread car ownership. And that won’t change overnight.  It’s important to reduce the need for cars by giving people a real alternative, or simply reducing the need to travel in the first place.  But to cut carbon fast enough to avoid the worst of climate change, we’re going to have to replace at least some fossil-fuelled cars with electric ones. Let’s take a look at how they compare.

Electric cars vs petrol cars  There are two main reasons why electric cars are so much better for the environment than petrol and diesel.

 (i)  Electricity is getting cleaner all the time.  While conventional cars will always need dirty fossil fuels, electric vehicles can (and increasingly do) run on renewable energy. In the UK, the carbon footprint of electricity is falling fast, and Greenpeace is campaigning for an 80 percent renewable grid by 2030.  Every year this trend continues, electric cars increase their advantage.  As the electricity grid gets cleaner, the carbon impact of manufacturing falls for all new cars. But once they’re actually on the road, powering a petrol car is as polluting as ever.  

(ii)  Electric motors are much more efficient than conventional engines.  Despite more than 100 years of refinements, the internal combustion engine used in cars just isn’t that good at converting fuel into movement. Even in the most efficient petrol engines, only around 12-30 percent of the energy in the fuel ever makes it to the wheels or other useful functions. The rest is wasted as noise and heat.  Electric motors, by contrast, are more like 77 percent efficient – they get more than twice as many miles out of the same amount of energy.  This efficiency gap is so big that even in Poland where most electricity comes from coal-fired power stations, electric cars emit about 25% less carbon than their fossil fuelled equivalents.

How to make electric cars better.   While electric cars are undoubtedly less harmful than petrol cars, frankly that’s a pretty low bar. It’s important to understand the problems with today’s electric cars, and demand that the industry do better.

Air Pollution  There’s been lots of debate about cars causing air pollution in cities. But most people don’t know that some of this pollution comes from cars’ tyres and brakes – not just the exhaust pipe. All that weight and friction scrapes off tiny particles of plastic and other nasty stuff, which ends up in people’s lungs, or washing into rivers. So when it comes to pollution, going electric only solves part of the problem.

Mining  There are also huge problems with some of the materials that make up today’s electric vehicle batteries. As production ramps up, these urgently need to be fixed. Cobalt production is linked to child labour in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Some Indigenous communities are resisting lithium mining on their land in South America.

We could pit these outrages against the horrors of fossil fuel extraction, but it doesn’t make them any less ugly. That’s why the transition away from fossil fuels can’t just be about swapping one set of machines for another. We need to avoid using more than we need, and clean up the industries that supply it to us.

While it’s impossible to burn oil ethically and sustainably, it is possible to produce electric vehicles in ways that minimise impact. But doing this will take time – which is why companies and governments need to make it a prior

What companies can do   Car companies and their suppliers are the key to this, and there are three main ways they can help.  The first is to demand transparency from their suppliers – it needs to be easy to identify which company and mine provided which material, so carmakers can choose better suppliers, and steer clear of the bad ones. Secondly car companies must only work with producers that follow the highest standards for workers’ rights, pay and conditions and treatment of the environment.  Car companies are already huge buyers of materials like lithium cobalt and nickel, and that gives them serious influence over the mining industry that supplies them. They should make the most of this influence, offering long-term fixed contracts with these high standards written in.  Thirdly, these companies need to be willing to draw the line. Some things, like Indigenous rights, need to be sacrosanct and primary. And opening up already over-stressed oceans to seabed mining is a non-starter. That means some of these materials will simply have to stay in the ground.

What the government can do    Politicians also have an important role to play. They can:

  • Exclude mining companies from the stock markets if they fail to meet the highest standards.
  • Fund research on new battery tech that needs fewer mined materials.
  • Regulate the industry to enforce 100% recycling of batteries.
  • Set targets and take action to control and reduce air pollution from tyres.

The way forward    Electric vehicles are essential to meeting our climate targets, and that’s why the government and industry need to get serious about making them better. But whether they’re electric powered or fossil-fuelled, all cars put a burden on the environment. And when they’re allowed to dominate urban areas, they make the streets hostile and dangerous to everyone else. So the UK also needs to look beyond swapping our petrol and diesel cars with an equivalent fleet of electric ones.  A transport policy fit for the current age wouldn’t just focus on electric cars. It’d combine them with major investments in public transport, broadband, car sharing, walking and cycling.  Cars have wreaked havoc on the climate and warped our physical world. It’s time to push back on both fronts.  

15 minute city   Email: David@Scoins.net      © David Scoins 2021