As the automotive industry continues its mandatory push towards electric vehicles, there are still many questions that need to be answered. The price of lithium is rising, there is a lack of charging stations nationwide, and concern exits surrounding the global supply of raw materials for batteries as a whole. Turning off the gas pumps clearly won’t happen as easily as some wish. According to a new report from CNBC, the decision to adopt EVs may not be as environmentally conscious as we’ve been led to believe either. In fact, electric cars and trucks may require everyone to change their vehicle ownership patterns, and a change in automotive manufacturing practices.
Electric Vehicles And Embedded Carbon
The news comes by way of Jefferies’ Simon Powell, who made a recent appearance on CNBC’s “Street Signs Asia”. Powell noted that the emerging electric car segment comes with its own “embedded carbon” issue, which will require some serious efforts to combat. For those wondering about his expertise in EVs, Powell is the head of global thematic research for the investment banking institution. He specifically highlighted the amount of materials that go into electric vehicles during production, as well as the overall dirty nature of the steel industry at large as two issues that are facing climate goals.
“To gain the environmental dividend that governments are looking for, users are going to have to keep them longer, drive them further than they may have done with a conventional internal combustion energy vehicle,” Powell told CNBC.
Like phone batteries, battery powered vehicles will experience degradation over time, to where the range will decrease so much that the vehicles are likely to become unusable. Considering that the current average age of a vehicle on the road is nearly 12 years old, keeping an EV for longer than that may prove to be insurmountable.
Part of the reason for Powell’s findings comes from the very nature of electric vehicles on offer today. EVs are manufactured with massive battery packs, which are required to give the range that customers expect. These batteries are not only taxing on resources, but they are quite a bit heavier than traditional engines. As a result, EV’s tend to be heavier, require larger brakes, and use more steel in their constriction. The latter is particularly bad for the environment according to Powell, as a ton of coal is needed to make our automotive-grade steel. Forgoing this process isn’t an option either at the moment, as low-carbon steel is even more expensive and resource intensive.
“The way this whole thing gets solved is greener steel,” he said. “The use of hydrogen in the manufacturing process for steel, as well, is something to look at.”
There are problems involved with cleaning up the steel industry however. Powell notes that the very idea is going to prove very challenging to enact on a global scale.
“I think it’s going to take a long time. We’re talking about large investments with … long paybacks, long time horizons,” said Powell.
Greener Electric Vehicles
Of course there is also the issue involved with the production of batteries themselves. While we have a great understanding of lithium ion battery packs, they may not prove to be viable in the long term. As mentioned, lithium itself is becoming more expensive, and the other elements required to make the batteries are often sourced in unethical ways. Several companies in the automotive industry are trying to find ways around these issues, but electric car battery tech has proved difficult to evolve. Without a serious overhaul, the environmental impacts of mining for these materials could also prove dangerous.
In all honesty, there is no real great answer to any of this. Gasoline-powered vehicles can’t stay around forever, but electric vehicles present new challenges of their own. And while the automotive industry is getting ready to embrace these battery-powered machines, there is no denying that legislation from around the globe is spurring this transition. We know that we are on the clock, but trading one problem for another isn’t necessarily the best plan. Until other alternatives prove to be viable however, it appears this is the road we are on. That means we need to try and find solutions to this embedded carbon problem, or we’re just chasing out own tails.
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