Electric vehicles have so many advantages. For a start, we are removing our direct dependence on fossil fuels. Of course we need to make sure we are charging our vehicles sustainably, by using renewable energy sources. But let’s not overlook the fact that as demand increases, the manufacture of the cars themselves have an environmental impact, and an accelerating one as demand increases.
The manufacture of an electric car or vehicle (EV) requires additional materials to an ordinary car manufacture because of the batteries and electric motor manufacture, meaning cobalt, copper, lithium, nickel and some of what is known as rare-earth metals and minerals are needed to produce them.
Issues relating to unethical mining practices have appeared in the news several times, not just for human rights issues but also because of environmental impacts such as from the mining of cobalt which is used for electric vehicle batteries.
According to research by analysts IDTechEx, cobalt use will be phased out and replaced by nickel which is cheaper with less issues relating to the supply chain. However, the waste produced by nickel mining is also a major issue. A number of nickel mining companies have planned to dispose of nickel mining waste in deep sea locations including the Coral Triangle of Indonesia. Indonesia is in line to be one of the biggest producers of nickel driven by the EV market. The government of the Philippines suspended many nickel mines in 2017 due to environmental concerns, but it is not known what the current status is of these mines.
On the positive side, manufacturers such as Toyota and Nissan have seen the challenges ahead and are working on reduced dependence on precious earth metals. There are even designs from Renault and BMW which claim to use no rare earth metals at all and were due to be launched this year.
In conclusion, if you’re thinking of switching to an electric car, it might be more beneficial for the environment to look at second hand electric or hybrid until the environmental impact of electric vehicle production has been reduced and allows more time for manufacturers to innovate. However, if your use is light, car sharing or using a car club will lower your carbon footprint significantly.
To some extent the same can be said for the manufacture of electric scooters, though the impact is significantly less than for car manufacture.
In terms of large scale uses of electric vehicles the benefits are clear. One of TreeActions partners, local authority Adur & Worthing Council recently acquired a number of electric vehicles and tell us that whilst the initial outlay for the vehicles meant they paid roughly twice the price on a normal van, the savings they are making on fuel costs are huge and will easily cover the costs in the mid term, reducing their costs overall, as well as lowering carbon emissions and pollution for this region of Sussex.
If you want to significantly lower your carbon footprint, using a bike or walking when you can is key, as well as planting some trees at the end of your journey, of course.