With every exciting breakthrough, worries about its environmental impact soon follow. This consideration is made for good reason when you take into account that 85% of the world’s population is already being affected by human-driven climate change.
When it comes to meeting global environmental goals, electric vehicles (EVs) have a huge role to play. However, while producers promise recycling schemes and new fuel efficiency standards, this hasn’t soothed all uncertainties. The emissions, battery manufacturing pollution, and a lacking infrastructure still hang in the sky like a dark cloud for many.
To further the development of EV transportation, there needs to be a way to minimise the environmental impact. To find out whether or not this is possible, we will look at emerging, potential, and ongoing strategies that are trying to do just that.
Strategies for reducing environmental impact
These gas alternatives promise many advantages for the consumer, including simplicity of repair, lower running costs, and charging infrastructure where you can fuel up from the comfort of your own home. One of the main drivers of EV sales, however, is sustainability. Buyers want to feel as though they are contributing to the cause and doing some good.
Still, the future is not in safe hands just yet. Just because EVs are better for the planet, it doesn’t mean they are good enough at the moment. Let’s discuss some of the most promising approaches below that will help us take a step closer to developing a sustainable automotive industry.
1. Manufacturing with eco-friendly materials
Officials all around the globe are aware of the need to use more eco-friendly materials. This is particularly key in bigger markets, such as the automotive industry, which is worth approximately $2.86 trillion. The European Commission, for example, is considering a rule that would make recycled thermoplastics mandatory in all new cars.
There is an even higher expectation for EVs to embrace these resources. While this isn’t always an easy feat for manufacturers, as little as one sustainable swap can make a big difference. Here are several ways this can be achieved throughout the different stages of vehicle production.
Better battery production: Currently, the most common battery technology for EVs is lithium-ion. These are used by influential brands such as Chevrolet, BMW, and Stellantis. Scientists have discovered that there is potential for using seawater, sand, and zinc air. Investing in these materials and switching to them when possible will ease the pressure on lithium mines and reduce pollution.
Consider conversions: Manufacturing a car from scratch isn’t always the greenest option. On the other hand, emissions on a classic car may be higher. So, what can you do? There is a way to give older models a new and cleaner lease of life. North American Electric Vehicles is a company that turns your antiques into a new electric vehicle. It’s a fascinating process you can learn more about here.
Go beyond the car: Hopefully, if you’re in the business of EVs, you’ve already thought about how to make them green. But have you thought about the dealership or showroom they reside in? Try to introduce natural light, keep up with your recycling, and source furniture responsibly to show consumers you mean business.
Consider the aesthetic decisions: While the focus is usually on the car’s technology, other design factors can often be overlooked. For example, you can also do your bit by swapping out the car’s interior for vegan leather, switching to eco-friendly paint, or using recycled plastics to create the seats. All of the innovative organisations with the most market shares are doing it.
2. Rethinking the EV battery
Though we only touched on the impact of batteries before, they are a big part of the conversation. These components are the energy source for all EV models, which means they are the part that makes the cars sustainable. Some critics argue that this is false because the manufacturing of certain batteries, specifically lithium-ion ones, has a bigger carbon footprint than their non-electric counterparts.
Although electric car’s batteries make them more carbon-intensive to manufacture than gas cars, they more than make up for it by driving much cleaner under nearly any conditions.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
In this scenario, according to the experts, the pros already outweigh the cons. To eliminate the remaining cons, we need to find a way to make EV batteries as green as we possibly can. Below are some examples of how we can take the first steps towards achieving this.
Use renewable energy: EV batteries are primarily charged by an external electrical source, which can increase their carbon footprint. One of the ways this can be reduced is by using batteries that are compatible with solar or wind power.
Ethical disposal of batteries: Batteries need to be properly recycled or they can release harmful gases. Manufacturers need to ensure that they go to an appropriate recycling centre and not a landfill. Otherwise, there will be a severe risk to both humans living close to the landfills, and the nearby wildlife.
Keep up-to-date with the alternatives: In March 2023, US researchers made a breakthrough with a lithium-air battery that has the highest energy density yet. Though this isn’t widely ready for commercial use, it’s important to keep an open mind. Be ready for innovations so you can adopt them as soon as possible.
Provide batteries with a second life after the vehicle: Innovators are coming up with after-life purposes for these materials. EDF claims that a closed-loop recycling system is possible for repurposing batteries in other areas. Tesla, for example, claims 92% battery cell material recovery by using this process. You can see how this works below. There will need to be a cheaper way available for smaller businesses and startups if this is ever to become a viable choice for carmakers.
3. Adapting the charging process
One of the most obvious differences between EVs and general motors is the way the cars are powered. One is fueled by electricity in charging stations, and the other by petrol. While zero-emission vehicles are not the mainstream yet, we are heading in that direction.
The automotives themselves are becoming more environmentally friendly. But can the same be said for all other products? Consider some chargers, for example, which still are powered by coal-burning power plants and others that put significant pressure on the grid.
There are measures that can be taken at every stage of the supply chain to improve these problems. Here are just a small few.
Discourage the overuse of fast charging: Although this comes at a great convenience for the driver, eight years of standard charging will give 10% more battery life compared to eight years of using fast charging. This will reduce the rate of degradation and help preserve materials for longer.
Consider investing in wireless charging: At the moment, wireless charging for new EV cars is more of a hope than a reality. Researchers are working on it and they could soon be mainstream. This would be a breakthrough for the climate as it would reduce the loss of biodiversity and the need for excessive lithium mining.
Strategic placement of the charging stations: MIT researchers have reported that placing the chargers in strategic locations can reduce the impact on the electrical grid. This is furthered when you set up the charging systems to operate at delayed times. Doing this can encourage good habits for drivers.
Enable a smart-charging feature: Smart charging allows the driver to be in charge of the process. For example, you can choose where you source energy from, encouraging the use of locally generated power. A study found that smart charging could reduce the carbon footprint of car charging by up to 20%.
4. Engaging with policy development
China offers a 10% tax exemption for EV buyers which is available until 2023. Last year in the US, Biden passed the Inflation Reduction Act to cut energy costs. Why did they introduce these incentives? To commercialise adoption of these cars and ramp up the sales of clean products.
About the US inflation reduction act
- It lowers prescription drug costs and extends health coverage.
- It invests in climate, energy and American manufacturing.
- It taxes corporations and the super rich.
Policymaking is based on a vision for a better future, values, and a need for change. Supporting the right ones, and learning from other countries, can effectively reduce the environmental impact of EVs. Let’s get into some of those specific examples below.
Publicise the successes of other countries: There are many examples of policy interventions making public support for electric motors stronger. By sharing articles and research on when tax credits, fee exemptions, and parking space privileges have been successful, they are more likely to be considered by our own politicians.
Involve yourself through your findings and research: A good policymaker will consider the public experience before committing to any new legislation. By joining in conversations, networking, and building your authority, there is a chance that decision-makers will take your knowledge and put it into practice.
Make it clear where you stand: If you have influence over consumers in the EV market, it’s important to show that you only support policies that promote sustainability and the use of ethical resources.
Sign petitions: There are examples on Change.org. This one calls for the Tesla superchargers to be the US standard, and this one argues that the Inflation Reduction Act should offer incentives to pure EVs and not hybrids. You don’t have to agree with these examples, but there are others out there to join.
5. Reducing drivers’ short-range anxiety
Approximately 50% of potential EV drivers have concerns that they won’t be able to charge their vehicle when they need to or that the battery will run out mid-trip. For many of us, buying an EV will be a first-time experience, which adds fear of the unknown to the list.
Surprisingly, these worries can impact the environment for a variety of reasons. Firstly, EV owners might charge their battery for way too long in the hopes that it will last longer. They might also depend on fast charging if they are in a rush, which should be used sparingly. Here you can find the most effective ways of making sure these things don’t happen:
Promote the sale of a plug-in hybrid (PHEVs) instead: Many huge companies involved in EV manufacturing, like Ford, Toyota, and Volkswagen, produce cars that use both batteries and conventional fuel to power an internal combustion engine. Though it is not as green as the usual EV, it is still better for the environment. This option will make more people switch over because of the reduced anxiety.
Provide an education: As we mentioned earlier, people’s fears are often unwarranted and holding them back from either purchasing an EV or taking proper care of it. You can eliminate these things by offering a forum for their questions, hosting live events, or handing out information to interested parties.
Base your arguments on research: People are unlikely to simply take your word for it, especially if you are a known carmaker who profits from sales. Make them feel encouraged about EVs by using research and articles that are readily available. They prove that there are more than enough charging stations to go around, the battery is sufficient for most ordinary journeys, and longer ones just require some careful planning.
Build EVs with a longer range: If you can’t beat them, join them. While most of these automotives are perfectly capable of going long distances, giving consumers peace of mind might be the best way to move forward. New models are being developed all the time, such as ones with an auxiliary power unit (APU). This can work alongside the battery pack.
The product we know now will be unrecognisable in the next few decades. Hopefully, the electrification of vehicles will continue to develop until automotives are actively making a positive contribution to the environment and our future.
However, this will only happen if the right precautions are made in the present. It’s crucial that automakers focus on crafting the most viable option for the next generation, host conversations with influential powers, and make sustainability the industry standard.