By Shivani Singh
While growing up most of us desire to have our own car.
You can call it freedom or a sense of independence, but the thought of having your own car certainly lights up the eyes with happiness.
You guys agree, right?
But! Yes, there is a ‘but’ that rings in immediately when you talk about automobiles and their usability by millions of people around the globe on a daily basis.
As the concerns regarding climate change take centre place on the world stage, the pollution caused by automobiles (due to production pollution contributors like carbon monoxides, nitrogen oxides, etc) comes under the radar and there is an onset of an unstoppable blame game, discussions and debates.
Well, thanks to the concept of ‘electric vehicles’ that comes to the rescue and claims to make fewer emissions that could impact the environment and climate change!
Before you arrive at any conclusion, it is better to have a gist of different schools of thoughts on ‘How green are electric cars? ‘
Let us begin with the basics.
BRIEF HISTORY: HOW ELECTRIC VEHICLES EVOLVED TO THEIR MODERN VERSION
When you talk about the discovery or invention then it is wont to be right to give credit to any single person for it. A single person did not invent the electric car, rather a series of discoveries made by several individuals around the globe. All those developments merge into what we call an electric car in the present time!
So, friends, instead of telling you the entire history of how electric cars came into being, I will be highlighting the major milestones of their evolution over the years.
For operating an electric car, there is a prime need for a source of electric energy. So before the idea of electric vehicles propagated in the world, the development of electric motors was done by a Hungrainian investor, Anyos Jedlik is worth mentioning. Not only this, by building a model car that could run using that electrical motor, he went on to give an early shape to the idea of using electricity as a means of transportation. A few years later in 1834, Thomas Davenport made a model electric car that could run on the small electrical track.
Now that there was a source of power to operate electric cars, the news spread from country to country and other inventors started to explore this field.
Finally, in 1884, Thomas Parker, a British investor, gave a proper materialistic shape to the concept of an electric car. He used self-designed, rechargeable and high-capacity batteries to operate it.
The efforts of Thomas Parker were followed by some other successful trials (done by several scientists)to build electric vehicles.
Entry Of Popular Automobile Companies Into Electric Vehicle Industry:
General Motors is one of the major automobiles firms that tried its hand in building electric vehicles. Unfortunately, the first experiment carried out in the 1960s failed to make it to mass-production.
But, have you heard that phrase ‘try and try until you succeed’?
I am sure you must have!
Well, General Motors tried to follow this mantra and gave it another try after a couple of decades. This time their efforts bore fruitful efforts and the General Motors EV1 became the first car that was mass-produced during the 1990s.
Honestly many of you would agree that the entry of Tesla Motors under the guidance of Elon Musk was totally a game-changer in the automobile industry.
In 2003, a group of engineers founded Tesla as an attempt to showcase that electric vehicles can giver a better driving experience as compared to conventional gasoline cars. A few years later it was made possible.
The very first electric car produced by it, the Roadster hit the road in 2008. It was built with cutting-edge technology and featured an electric powertrain as well. Before Tesla Motors presented its electric car to the world, people were unsure about the practical usability of electric vehicles. But, a thumbs up to the Roadster that it changed this view.
As a result, within a span of just four years, there was a sale of around 2500 Roadster cars in a total of 30 countries.
A CLEANER ENVIRONMENT WITH ELECTRIC CARS
Since the time that electric cars (especially those produced by Tesla) are being used by the general public, it has been associated with the tags like ‘clean’ and ‘green’.
You must have felt that in general, the world has become more conscious of carbon footprints and the emphasis on reducing the emissions of greenhouse gases has also surged. Due to this awakening, more and more people have started to appreciate the concept of using electric cars.
Well, they simply have a marginal contribution to environmental pollution.
Are you, how?
The next section explains that!
Before we move to the ‘how’ let me acquaint you with some useful information regarding the emissions. There are primarily 2 types of vehicle emission namely: Life Cycle and Direct
Life cycles emissions are those emissions that emanate while a vehicle is produced, processed, distributed and finally disposed of. For example, the production of greenhouse gases when petroleum is extracted and refined into gasoline and when it gets burned while the vehicles operate. Thus, it does play a significant part in polluting the earth.
On the other hand, Direct emissions are that emission that emanates due to the evaporation process taking place in the fuel system of vehicles. Typical examples of direct emission include nitrogen oxides that form smog, greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide, etc. In fact, they have a stronger carbon footprint too.
Now, let me tell you how reducing pollution with electric vehicles comes into play here!
As claimed by the companies who manufacture electric vehicles, they tend to emit ‘zero direct emissions’ into the air. All of you are very well aware of how rapidly the environmental conditions of urban areas especially the metro cities are deteriorating. Take the case of our capital city, Delhi where every year the onset of winters become dreary due to the dense smog in the air.
Under such circumstances, electric vehicles producing zero direct emission are certainly a blessing in disguise and help to improve the air quality.
Secondly, if you talk about life cycle emission then it is quite difficult to calculate but practically the electric vehicles emit a lesser amount of life cycle emissions. The reason quoted behind the same is that the generation of electricity releases fewer harmful pollutants as compared to the release of the pollutants when petrol or diesel gets burned while the conventional vehicles move on the roads.
I hope you are convinced by now that electric vehicles can play a role in tackling the climate change situation in the world.
But, hold on, things are not as simple as they seem here.
What if I tell you that there is another school of thought that counters the fact of electric vehicles being perfectly ‘green’.
To know more, continue with the reading!
THE CONTRADICTING VIEW: HOW ELECTRIC CARS POLLUTE THE ENVIRONMENT?
The modern version of electric vehicles have been here for quite some time now and since the time has revolutionized the automobile industry, the label ‘clean’ has remained like a shadow with it.
But, like a coin has two sides, contradicting views regarding the environmental impact of electric vehicles has been a topic of discussion as well. It won’t be wrong to say here that they have been facing their share of scrutiny from the champions of the environment.
You call it misinformation or difference in viewpoint, but many people are doubtful of how clean electric vehicles are?
In fact, the flashlight has been on Elon Musk’s Tesla too!
The Production Of Battery Is Not Clean:
Before we move to talk about the contradicting view, I would like to ask, how many of you are aware of the composition of batteries that is the main source of power for electric vehicles?
Not many of you must have the answer to this question. Am I right?
Now, some people around the globe give an argument that puts a question on the green image of electric vehicles. Their reasoning revolves around the fact that the battery used in electric vehicles is composed of rare earth metals and their extraction leads to carbon emissions. In fact, pollution created during the production as well as the extraction process of such batteries stands is significantly higher than the pollution created during the manufacturing of the engines based on diesel or petrol.
The Source of Electricity Is Another Concern:
The story just does not end with the composition of batteries that is employed in electric vehicles, but there is yet another argument that is put forward by scientists and experts. This viewpoint revolves around the source of electricity which differs from country to country!
Yes, you read it right!
You want to know how?
Here you go!
The countries around the globe have varying dependency on fossil fields for the production of electricity. For instance, on one hand, there is the country Albania where the generation of the electricity used depends on hydroelectric power then, on the other hand, there is Gibraltar where the generation of electricity majorly depends on oil and coal.
Therefore, a person using an electric vehicle in Gibraltar won’t be contributing much towards mitigating issues like pollution or climate change. Whereas a person using electric vehicles in Albania would have a fair share of environmental protection.
Did you have any idea what a major difference comes in, as the source of electricity generation changes?
I hope now you understand how geographical location fits into the entire saga of electric vehicles not being so green after all!
Now that I have spoken in lengths about electric vehicles, their evolution and the countering views regarding the contrasting views of them being better than conventional petrol/diesel-based vehicles, it’s time to turn the focus on the flagbearer of electric vehicles, TESLA.
ARE TESLA CARS ACTUALLY GREEN?
Have you ever imagined buying a Tesla Model S or Tesla Roadster?
Does the thought of owning a Tesla car lure you as well?
Do you also wish to put a halt to all the pollution your gasoline car has been making, by replacing it with a Tesla car?
Well, the idea of taking it out on the road, knowing that you are not making the planet polluted due to your car is certainly beguiling.
A report by Devonshire Research Group states that the environmental advantages claimed by Tesla are overhyped. Don’t worry as there is no denying the fact that it is cleaner than gasoline cars but it also does not imply that there is no emission of greenhouse gases (from its making to its disposal).
So is Tesla really eco-friendly?
Are Tesla batteries safe?
Any electric car like that of Tesla does not operate on the air of course! It needs a battery and electricity to charge it up. As I explained in the former part, the composition of electric batteries involves many rare earth metals. Similar is the case of batteries used by Tesla. Be it lithium, nickel, manganese, these earth metals do come from somewhere right? They are mined and the entire process is often harmful to the environment. Remember this many-a-times the emissions are hidden during the extraction process.
I agree there is a distance relationship between the mining of these earth metals and Tesla cars running on the road but the indirect relation between them cannot be ignored!
Secondly, one of the major concerns regarding Tesla cars is the recycling process of batteries used in them. There is still uncertainty about what happens to the recycling process of the massive batteries when your car would become old enough to dispose of in the future! There is a need for a proper and cost-effective plan to recycle heavy lithium batteries.
If you talk about the present situation, then only a few companies have the expertise in recycling such batteries, and if electric cars are the future, then there is a certain requirement of an effective recycling process.
WILL TESLA CARS HELP INDIA TO BECOME GREENER?
Since Elon Musk has confirmed the entry of Tesla into the Indian markets through a Tweet in 2020, people literally cannot keep calm!
But, let me put it straight for you, electric cars like those manufactured by Tesla might not help to reduce the emissions in India. The same goes for China.
Sounds puzzling to you?
Not to worry. Let me break it down for you!
In one of the former subheadings, I mentioned how the source of electricity generation changes the dynamics of emissions during the manufacturing of electric vehicles. In countries like India where more than 70% of the electricity generation relies on coal, the emission of harmful pollutants is certainly a point of worry! So, don’t think that replacing a gasoline car with a Tesla car in India would do wonder for the environment or the climate change issue.
According to the emission calculator (built by a European non-profit organization, Transport and Environment), the models of Tesla cars used in most of the European countries a pronounced portion of carbon dioxide takes place while its battery is charged. This is because electricity generation is based heavily on coal and not on renewable sources like water.
On the contrary, in countries like France or Sweden, the electricity generation is relatively cleaner, hence charging a battery of any electric car won’t damage our dear mother earth.
So, you can be all excited about Elon Musk entering the Indian market but Tesla’s carbon footprint might be unsettling in our country.
To conclude I would say that yes, in many ways electric cars are better as compared to gasoline vehicles in terms of pollutants emissions. However, there are certain terms, conditions and factors that come into play when you look at the bigger picture.
You must have heard this saying, ‘never judge a book by its cover’ or look can be deceptive’.
Try to apply a similar approach when you analyse the environmental effect of either gasoline cars or electric cars.
Just because the combustion of fuel is visible in gasoline cars and there is no combustion taking place in electric cars, it does not imply that there is no indirect or hidden emission involved in the manufacturing, processing as well as disposal of electric cars.
Lastly, Elon Musk’s Tesla cars might not be too ‘ perfect’ but there is no doubt that it holds the capability to drive the world towards a cleaner tomorrow.