Why are electric cars better for the environment
Electric car impact on the environment
Electric cars don’t directly produce emissions as they don’t use polluting fossil fuels. Petrol and diesel engines emit carbon dioxide (CO2) which pollutes the air, a contributing factor to climate change.
EVs offer a cleaner alternative to everyday driving with zero tailpipe emissions. They’re not just green, but they’re also cost-effective to run too. Electricity costs are typically cheaper than fuel, and you can enjoy plenty of other savings including no road tax.
Currently, electric cars are the most viable zero-emission vehicle. But advancements in technology, including hydrogen electric cars, may see the landscape change further in years to come. Read on below to learn how electric cafes are better for the environment.
How do electric cars work?
Electric cars produce zero emissions due to their electric powertrain. There’s no fuel needed to power the wheels so they don’t produce any emissions when out driving. Electric cars may seem complex but they’re surprisingly simple! To understand their environmental impact, it’s important to know how they run.
A powerful lithium-ion battery powers the car, rated in kWh. A typical EV with a 60kWh battery will get up to 200 miles of driving range.
The battery stores electricity and uses it to power the electric motor which then turns the wheels.
This type of electric powertrain has instant access to torque, so EVs are extremely fast off the mark. Their acceleration beats most traditional ICE vehicles from a standstill.
A powerful lithium-ion battery stores electricity which is then turned into energy through the motor. Typically the battery sits under the floor of the car to create additional space and to lower the EV’s centre of gravity for tighter handling.
Simply plug in your electric car via the cable to recharge the battery. This can be at home (through a three-pin wall socket or wall box), or at a dedicated charging station with fast and rapid charging capabilities.
The lifecycle of electric cars & batteries
Electric cars last just as long as traditional ICE vehicles. But what happens to the battery at the end of an EV’s lifecycle? Are there any considerations when it comes to scrapping your car? We delve into the details below.
EV battery guarantee
Most electric cars come with a battery warranty for up to 8 years or 100,000 miles, whichever is first.
This means if the battery is defective and needs to be replaced, or holds less charge than it should be compared to how old it is, the manufacturer will cover the costs.
Battery replacement is quite expensive so it’s not really an option for most drivers as it’s typically more cost-effective to just get another car.
But this industry-wide practice ensures your electric car will last just as long as ICE engines do. EVs may actually last slightly longer due to having fewer mechanical parts, meaning less can go wrong!
Regular servicing and maintenance is a surefire way to guarantee many years of happy zero-emission driving.
Scrapping an electric car
What happens when it’s time to scrap an electric car? If an EV reaches the end of its useful life or is written off you can still scrap it. The battery’s life won’t end there though.
Lithium-ion batteries can be recycled or repurposed. Just because the battery can only achieve reach 50% of its charging capacity, it doesn’t mean it has to be retired.
Instead, it can be used to power other systems! It’s still a battery at the end of the day. The Johan Crujiff Arena in Amsterdam uses recycled Nissan Leaf batteries to store electricity that’s generated by solar panels.
If the battery has reached the end of its life and isn’t suitable for other uses it can still be recycled. Some manufacturers plan to recycle up to 97% of a battery’s raw materials to be used in a new EV battery.
Read our guide on electric car batteries for more information.
The environmental impact of ICE cars compared to EVs
Pollution from ICE cars isn’t just from the tailpipe. The manufacturing and shipping process of new cars emits CO2, as does the production of fuel.
So there’s quite a large carbon footprint before you’ve even turned the engine on. This is known as well-to-wheel emissions and gives a better view of the impact on the environment.
In recent times car manufacturers have been focusing on lowering their overall footprint but ICE cars still have a larger impact overall.
Electric car production impact on the environment
The production of electric cars also creates emissions. This includes mining, processing and transportation of raw materials needed for the battery as well as the shipping of the cars.
EV production tends to have more of an impact on the environment than ICE production does. CO2 emissions are still lower than ICE cars when you compare the lifetimes of each powertrain. For example, electric cars generally produce around 50% of a traditional car’s full lifecycle carbon emissions.
Reasons why electric cars are better for the environment
Electric cars are better for the environment when comparing full lifetime emissions for a number of reasons:
Zero tailpipe emissions
The largest contributing factor to EVs having a smaller impact on the environment is that they produce zero emissions when driving. This reduces your net carbon footprint.
The only time you’ll contribute to CO2 emissions is if you charge with electricity provided by fossil fuels. Even then you’ll still have a smaller carbon footprint than traditional engines.
Clean EV battery production
Producing electric car batteries can be quite damaging to the environment, but more and more manufacturers are becoming dedicated to sustainable practices.
The carbon footprint of battery manufacturers gets smaller every day as they work out more sustainable ways to work.
Hybrid cars’ carbon emissions
Here we explore the environmental impact of each hybrid powertrain:
Plug-in hybrid emissions
Plug-in hybrid cars have the largest zero-emission driving capabilities. This makes them much less polluting than traditional ICE cars. You’ll typically be able to drive around 30 miles in pure electric mode before you need to recharge.
This means your car uses less fuel and in turn produces fewer tailpipe emissions during its lifetime. PHEV cars are usually the most environmentally friendly in terms of emissions.
Full hybrid emissions
Full hybrid cars (also known as self-charging hybrids) are also usually capable of driving in all-electric mode, but for shorter distances and at lower speeds.
The beauty of a full hybrid is that the battery charges itself so you don’t have to pay for electricity or factor in charge times to your daily driving habits.
This type of hybrid powertrain typically offers 15-20 miles of pure electric driving which is more than enough for daily trips or short commutes.
Mild hybrid emissions
Mild hybrid cars use a smaller electric motor and battery to support the engine and most often don’t allow for electric-only driving.
Instead the motor powers electrical systems and supports the engine where necessary to increase your fuel efficiency. This type of hybrid also charges itself in the background.
Future of zero-emission driving
Electric cars have spiked in popularity in recent years but we’ll likely see a change in the next few decades as other technology releases.
The industry is hoping for a few breakthroughs to make EVs more viable for everyone, including:
- High-power batteries capable of 500+ miles will mean less regular charging is needed.
- Quick-charge capabilities that can get you back on the road in no time.
- Widespread infrastructure throughout the country to give everyone easy access to charging.
The next big thing, other than developments within battery electric vehicle technology, is hydrogen fuel cell cars.
Hydrogen-powered cars still have zero tailpipe emissions but they can be refuelled in a matter of minutes, just like refuelling petrol and diesel cars.
Below we delve into some of the main draws of hydrogen fuel cell technology.
No charging needed
All the benefits of zero-emission driving with no charging. This technology uses hydrogen fuel cells for power, which are refuelled in the same way petrol and diesel cars are refuelled.
It takes the same time too, so you could get back on the roads in a matter of minutes rather than waiting for your battery to charge.
No tailpipe emissions means a lower carbon footprint much like an EV, but without having to use electric power to recharge.
Safe & clean
Hydrogen is one of the most abundant elements in the universe. It can be very easily sourced from local areas. If it’s produced with renewable energy it also makes it carbon neutral.
It’s also incredibly safe (just like charging an EV) and easy to use. You use a pump to refuel just like you would with a petrol or diesel car.
Energy cost of EVs
Energy prices are on the rise. But hydrogen, as mentioned above, is extremely abundant and readily available. Hydrogen-powered cars could easily become cheaper to run on a daily basis.
No battery storage
As there’s no need to store a large battery, hydrogen power is a much more attractive option for larger trucks and other vehicles.
Why choose EV over hydrogen?
Whilst hydrogen power does offer a great solution, the technology just isn't there yet. It will be a good few years before manufacturers turn their sights on this type of powertrain. Most manufacturers are pouring all their efforts into battery-electric vehicles.
There have only been three hydrogen-powered models produced since 2015. Currently, the technology is very costly and the infrastructure just isn’t there for widespread adoption.
Maybe in the next decade or so we will see the start of hydrogen power becoming slightly more popular. But for now, electric vehicles are your best bet for zero-emission driving as the technology just isn’t there yet.