Are Electric Vehicles Really Better For The Environment?

The release of the Tesla Singapore sales portal has sparked a topic of conversation around Electric Vehicles (EV). Singapore has announced the phasing out of Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) vehicles in favour of EV’s in an effort to tackle climate change and build a more eco-friendly city.

While EV’s do not produce direct carbon emissions, each stage of an EV’s life has environmental impacts, and while they aren’t as obvious as an exhaust pipe pumping out fumes, that doesn’t make them any less damaging.

From the manufacturing process, electricity sources powering these vehicles, to disposal, just how clean are these vehicles, and is owning one really a thoughtful consideration for the environment?

Less-Than-Green Manufacturing Process

The main hit to the environment in regards to EV production is in the materials needed for the batteries.

EVs run on lithium-ion batteries. So raw materials have to be extracted, refined, transported, and manufactured to create these batteries, and at a high environmental cost.

Despite the efforts to replace fossil fuels with clean energy, the mining of all the lithium needed to enable that transformation has become detrimental to the environment.

This is because the batteries are made of rare earth elements like lithium, nickel, cobalt, or graphite that only exist in tiny quantities beneath the surface of the Earth.

These materials are sourced through environmentally destructive mines, generating more carbon emissions through the extraction process than building a conventional car. Mining inevitably harms the soil, pollutes water sources, and causes air contamination.

A new battery technology that uses more common, and environmentally friendly materials need to be developed. Researchers are working on new battery chemistries that replace cobalt and lithium with more common and less toxic materials.

Having said that, much work still remains to be done.

Electrical Sources

The source of energy to power these cars plays a vital role in the environmental impact of EVs.

Power is most often sourced from the local power grid. If your local grid incorporates a fair amount of renewable solar and wind energy, your electric vehicle is pretty clean.

However, if the electricity used to charge cars comes from the burning of fossil fuels, it doesn’t matter if your EV is not producing any direct carbon emissions, as the greenhouse gases have already been released in some distant power plant.

Today, about 95% of Singapore’s electricity is generated using natural gas, a form of fossil fuel.

While solar energy is the most viable source of renewable energy in sunny Singapore, there is still a long way to go with multiple challenges to deploying solar on a large scale.

If you are interested in owning an EV, you may want to consider adopting solar power by investing in solar panels or subscribing to renewable energy sources through the utility providers available.

Saying Goodbye

After a good 10 years, it’s finally time to say goodbye to your car. What happens to the battery?

Lithium-ion batteries have a very specific mix of chemical components, which doesn’t make them economical to recycle. Batteries would be either incinerated or dumped in landfills, resulting in massive, and potentially toxic waste.

There is a need to drive up recycling efficiencies and reduce the impact on the environment. Used electric car batteries can still be useful for energy storage, which can help offset the environmental costs of making the batteries in the first place.

With more EVs, battery recycling will be more efficient and reduce the need to extract new materials, therefore lessening the reliance on mining and production of new batteries.

In Singapore, a new battery recycling facility capable of recycling 14 tonnes of lithium-ion batteries per day officially opened in Tuas on 24th March. Facilities like these support Singapore’s move towards phasing out ICE vehicles in favour of EVs.

Meanwhile, another solution could be the repurposing and reusing of these batteries and giving them a second life. Since they are able to support the electric grid of buildings and store energy from wind or solar electricity sources, it could help offset the environmental impacts of making the batteries in the first place by giving these batteries a new lease of life.

Taking A Step In The Right Direction

Electric cars are not zero-emissions vehicles, but it is still a good step in the initiative for a greener world.

Undeniably, there is a need for more efficient manufacturing techniques, energy production, recycling options, and reducing the need for the mining of new materials. However, as the technology becomes more mainstream, it will become even more efficient and sustainable.

With the introduction of EVs in Singapore and the increase in demand all around the world, solutions to make electric cars greener, more eco-friendly, and sustainable are being developed.

And although there is room for improvement, we have also seen that EV’s, as they are today, are already, in general, more eco-friendly along their lifecycle than conventional fossil fuel cars, especially if they are powered with clean electricity.

The need for more renewable energy use in Singapore’s electricity mix will help majorly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. With continued improvements, EV’s offer a pathway to greatly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

An electric vehicle contributes a fair bit of pollution and greenhouse gases to the world. But a gasoline-powered car does as well.

This article is contributed by CARRO, Southeast Asia’s largest AI-driven car marketplace and Financial Times’ Fastest Growing Company in APAC in 2021.