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Are electric cars truly green?

On Behalf of | Aug 24, 2022 | Consumer Class Action

What you might not know about your electric vehicle

The spotlight on electric cars has never been brighter. Tesla has  brought cutting-edge electric vehicles (“EVs”) into the mainstream. However, a surface-level look at the e-transports reveals that they are not often as green as the companies’ claim.

Devonshire Research Group recently analyzed data, revealing more hype than actual results. In reality, EVs actually create different types of carbon emissions. While nowhere near the level of fumes from a gas-powered engine, damage can still be done.

A controversial process

Electric cars need to be light, which means they must include several high-performing metals. The lithium in the batteries of electric vehicles, for example, is light and conductive. Other rare metals are used in other parts of these vehicles. Many of these metals come from environmentally-destructive mines.

Additionally, these rare metals only exist in tiny quantities in inconvenient places, meaning you have to move a lot of earth to get just a tiny amount. In the Jiangxi rare earth mine in China, workers dig 8-foot holes and pour ammonium sulfate into them to dissolve the sandy clay. They then haul out bags of muck and pass it through several acid baths. What’s left is baked in a kiln, leaving behind the rare metals required by everything from our phones to Tesla vehicles. At this mine, those rare metals amount to 0.2% of what gets pulled out of the ground. The other 99.8% – now contaminated with toxic chemicals – is dumped back into the environment.

As in every stage of the process, mining produces hidden emissions. Many mines rely on rock-crushing equipment with astronomical energy bills, as well as coal-fired furnaces for the final baking stages. Those spew a lot of CO2. In fact, manufacturing an EV generates more CO2 than building a conventional car, mostly because of its battery.

What about the batteries?

Batteries are an important component of electric vehicles, and their production contributes a large part to the environmental impact of these cars.

The batteries required to power an electric vehicle are made up of materials like lithium, cobalt, graphite, and nickel. Approximately 13 kilograms of cobalt and lithium are needed to produce a battery with a capacity of 90 kilowatt hours. This poses a number of issues about Tesla being considered “sustainable”.

The production of electric vehicles could easily deplete 74 to 248% of the world’s lithium reserves by 2050. Cobalt reserves could also be depleted by 50%. This begs the question of whether this type of production can be considered sustainable when there is a resource constraint for essential components of these batteries.

Large quantities of toxic chemicals are used in the extraction of lithium, and most of this mining occurs in Argentina, Bolivia, and Chile, which is known as the “Lithium Triangle”. This mining has led to huge environmental problems like water shortages, soil contamination, and air pollution, and has adversely affected indigenous populations in those areas.

In addition to lithium, Tesla needs cobalt to manufacture electric vehicles. This is mined in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Children as young as six years old work in the mines for about $3 a day.

The batteries required by electric vehicles are also difficult to recycle. In essence, electric vehicles are problematic from cradle to grave.

Are consumers getting duped?

Many people purchase these cars because they think they are doing something good for the environment and buying from a company that is committed to sustainability and environmental responsibility.

Unfortunately, most consumers are unaware of the practices that directly go against those principles.

While electric cars are nowhere near the impact of their fuel-powered counterparts, they are equally not as “green” as promoted.