Sustainability in automotive industry: are electric cars the way to go?
16 August 2021
Electric cars are increasing in popularity as a greener option from traditional fuel powered vehicles and moving towards sustainability in automotive industry activity. As more individuals are using, or considering, an electric car, this raises a lot of questions about what their environmental impact is and whether they really are more sustainable.
In this blog we’ll discuss what the concerns are around electric car production, the pros and cons of buying and owning an electric vehicle and where the industry needs to go in order to facilitate a successful increase in electric cars on the roads.
The push for sustainability
In the current climate, striving for sustainability is everyone’s responsibility. The UK government’s ten point ‘green industrial revolution’ plan outlines the targets that are expected of different industries, with a move to zero emission vehicles for automotive sustainability. The next step will be a ban on the sale of new petrol or diesel cars from 2030, which will put an increased emphasis on electric cars with the aim of reducing the biggest source of carbon emissions in the UK- transport.
With the majority of cars on the roads today being fuel-based, 31.5 million out of 31.7 million, this shift is not going to happen overnight. There’s a lot of factors and challenges that will need to be considered in order for the use of electric cars to become the majority.
The environmental impact of manufacturing electric cars- how green are they really?
One of the biggest criticisms of electric cars is the way they are produced, and the impact this has on the environment given that they are supposed to be the greener option. The main issue here is creating the batteries that power the cars which are lithium-ion and made up of metals like aluminium and copper alongside lithium, graphite, and nickel.
With the use of lithium-ion batteries escalating, we’re seeing a 58% increase in lithium mining to meet the demand. The concern comes from the amount of water that’s used in the mining process, which not only results in large volumes of acid waste water, but causes signs of decline in the immediate environment where the lithium is being mined. For example, the Atacama Salt Flat in Chile, which is the largest lithium extraction site in the world. In addition, there is the electricity consumption necessary to manufacture the batteries themselves.
There is a lot of debate and analysis about whether electric cars really are the greener option- but the general consensus is that they are better for the environment in the long run. Andreas Unterstaller, transport and environment expert with the European Environment Agency (EEA) makes a crucial point on this:
“It is very important to say that no car will ever be 100 % clean…what we are saying is that if you really need to use a car, an electric car is the better choice for the environment… a car is still a car; replacing one with another type is not going to solve transport problems like congestion.”
The benefit to using an electric car is that it’s more energy efficient to run and does not emit the level of polluting emissions that a traditional car would, therefore reducing the environmental impact. This is a very basic summary of the findings of the EEA’s Transport and Environment Reporting Mechanism publication but the key thing to keep in mind is that the electric car industry is still emerging and growing, with lots of areas to consider and build on in order to maximise sustainability.
Two of the biggest factors which present a barrier for consumers to make the switch to an electric car are the cost and the availability of charging stations. Buying an electric car is more expensive than purchasing a traditional fuel-based one. An electric car is an investment- something that will be more efficient and greener in the long run, but the upfront cost is going to price lots of people out unless there are enough second-hand purchase options.
The availability of charging points is another huge factor in whether or not getting an electric car is even an option. This is largely dependent on where you live and what’s available in your area. While getting a private charging station set up at your home is possible, for those who live in apartments or rent their homes this might not be an option.
In rural areas, access to charging points is scarce as it presents a higher cost for companies to install them for which they will receive less of a profit, making this less of a priority. This makes it harder, if not pointless, for people living in rural areas to invest in an electric car if they can’t access adequate charging to run them.
With the 2030 deadline, the automotive industry has a lot of change to consider in order to meet the government expectations to move towards sustainable transport. While electric cars have a lot of potential, they are still very much the minority on the road. Making them more accessible for consumers and informing them of both the environmental and personal benefits will be key to getting more people to make the switch.
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