EVs Face A Speed Breaker As Skeptics Gather Evidence Around Key Issues

Highlights :

  • Studies claim that manufacturing of EVs is more polluting than manufacturing a gasoline-based car.
  • Lithium mining, Cobalt extraction and other EV manufacturing processes add up to the additional environmental burden.
EVs Face A Speed Breaker As Skeptics Gather Evidence Around Key Issues Tata Power Claims To Install 62,000 Home Chargers For EVs Till Now

The Delhi government recently announced Motor Vehicle Aggregator Policy, which mandates a shift to EVs for cab aggregators, besides other incentives for electric vehicles (EVs). The move has apparently caused a pause in the stock price of CNG supplier Indraprastha Gas Limited (IGL). The plan mulls phase-wise conversion of commercial cab services, running primarily on CNG in the national capital, into electric vehicles. Like Delhi, several Indian states have jumped onto the bandwagon to give an impetus to their faster adoption of EVs.

Several states have made their electrification plans in their State EV Policies. For example, the Delhi EV Policy 2019 envisaged 25 percent electrification of its fleet by 2024. Odisha’s EV Policy 2021 aimed to ensure that 20 percent of their new registrations come from EVs by 2025. There are numerous other examples. 

There are several incentives from the Union government under the Faster Adoption of Manufacturing of Electric Vehicles (FAME-II) scheme to incentivize its sales. There are also sops for developers of EVs and EV charging service providers. That is why, as per the 2023 report of the International Energy Agency (IEA), there is a continuous rise in sales of EVs across the globe, and by the end of 2023, the total sales could touch 14 million. In addition, data from the Vahan dashboard (Road and Surface Transport Ministry) claimed that India has seen 26 lakh registered Battery Electric Vehicles (BEV). 

In providing subsidies or incentives for EVs, many troubling issues have been swept under the carpet for now, hoping that they will resolve themselves in time. But with a real-world impact on the prospects of a cleaner fuel than, say, petrol or diesel like CNG, we believe these issues need to be confronted too.

The primary one, of course, is the simple fact that for all the capacity addition in renewables, the share of renewable power in actual generation will be 50% or less, even in 2030. That straightaway puts a question mark on the ‘clean’ credentials of EVs, especially if they are going to be powered by thermal power.

Other issues of focusing beyond just the tailpipe emissions have also raised a huge debate. The world witnessed a noted voice favouring ICE vehicles in the last week. Noted comedian and actor Rowan Atkinson recently wrote a detailed piece for the Guardian on why he felt duped after buying EVs, triggering a debate on its utility and often on the ignored facets of the emerging market.

Atkinson’s key assertion that EV manufacturing places a far higher emission load on the planet due to the nature of the materials and the difficulty of extracting and processing them, notably the lithium batteries, has been a well-made case against EVs for a long time.   

EVs Do Emit Greenhouse Gases

Following are some of the darker sides of EVs, which often fail to meet our eyes. According to studies, researchers, estimates, and common experience, there are indeed carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas emissions during the life cycle of EVs. However, no emission from its tail end does not ensure zero emissions for the vehicles. 

Following are some of the main issues that have remained matters of concern for EVs from the environmental point of view-

1. Mining of critical minerals

Most EVs in India and the world use Lithium-ion batteries as it offers the best combination of energy density, charging cycles, technology development, and cost for now. However, these Lithium-ion batteries include rare earth minerals and hard-to-extract minerals like nickel and Cobalt, found in very few countries like Congo, Chile, and Australia. 

Even the mining of Lithium often is the cause of environmental degradation. They are either extracted from the rocks mixed with Bauxite, like in countries like Australia, or found in the brines (salty water) in countries like Chile. The mining process involves extractive industries, transportation, and all other environmental issues commonly seen in mining areas. This whole phase accounts for Green House Gases (GHGs) emissions. 

2. Processing of Lithium

While countries like Chile and a few others are known to host the rare Lithium deposits, they have yet to be known worldwide for processing it to make it fit for end use in batteries. China is known worldwide for harnessing the processing technologies for converting Lithium into a usable commodity for Lithium-ion cells used in Lithium-ion batteries. Countries like India import Lithium-ion cell tranches to make these batteries inside the country. These batteries later find their place in popular EVs brands in India, ranging from the e-rickshaws to electric two-wheelers, three-wheelers, and cars. 

3. Higher Carbon Dioxide Emissions

A peer-reviewed study published in the Journal of Industrial Ecology claimed the production process of an EV involves the emission of 30,000 pounds of CO2 before it hits the showrooms. On the other hand, for gasoline-based vehicles, the numbers stand at 14,000 pounds. Thus, an EV accounts for more GHG emissions during manufacturing than gasoline-based vehicles. Even Volvo claimed that manufacturing EVs led to 70 percent more GHC emissions than petrol-based vehicles. 

4. Even operations of EVs emit GHGs

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The most common form of charging EVs in India is through the typical grid, which is pre-dominated by coal-fired thermal power. Thus, if one is charging an EV in an urban area with coal-fired power, the no-emission vehicle is fuelled at the cost of emissions in the coal mining areas or thermal power plants (mostly rural India), besides the emissions involved in its transportation. 

The same study published in the Journal of Industrial Ecology claimed that for every mile of distance covered by an EV, around 15 ounces of GHC is emitted. 

5. The menace of cobalt extraction

Besides the menace of Lithium mining, the extraction of Cobalt is also mired in controversy. Cobalt is also a rare earth mineral found in selected countries in the world, mostly in  Africa. A UN report claimed that due to weak environmental and labour laws in many of these countries, often child labour is involved in the extraction of Cobalt. Moreover, Cobalt is a crucial component of Lithium-ion batteries, used rampantly during EVs. 

6. Issue of battery disposal

The anticipated increase in Lithium-ion batteries and their unscientific disposal will likely create other environmental hazards in the coming days. For example, the haphazard unscientific, and unorganized disposal of these batteries will likely trigger fire in the dump yard besides releasing toxic elements. 

New Battery Norms: Recycling the Battery WasteHowever, several states and the Indian federal government are also working towards promoting renewable energy sources for the recharging of EVs so that the operations of EVs could lead to no emissions even in the supply of power used in charging of EVs. 

So do we believe EVs are too early, too fast? Not at all. There are some very compelling reasons for pushing towards an EV transition, and both the technology and the will exist today to ensure they deliver on their promise of cleaner, greener transportation. To know about it, watch this space for part 2 of this article!

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