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Transportation electric cars take us to a low carbon culture | Upload Battery

Electric Cars Take Us To A Low Carbon Culture

by: Joyce Mahler
electric cars take us to a low carbon culture | Upload

Electric cars were once regarded as hopeless, tasteless, and incapable of replacing fossil fuel-powered vehicles. In 2006, the award-winning documentary 'Who Killed the Electric Car?' illustrated the impending obsolescence of electric cars after a series of failed experiments by the automotive industry.

Electric Cars Take Us To A Low Carbon Culture

The predicted doom didn’t stop environmentalists from pressing for the industry to make a better electric car, however. Over the next decade, the industry responded to these requests by rolling out the electric car like Tesla Model 3 and Nissan Leaf as frontline products. These electric cars fuelled a new wave of strategies to combat the effects of climate change, and today, these vehicles strongly foreshadow the imminent end of fossil fuel-powered vehicles. The worldwide projection of electric cars as mechanical messiahs begs us to ask the question: are electric vehicles really as environmentally friendly as they seem?

Recommended: Our Focus On CO2 Alone: Other Climate Culprits

Electric Cars: Embodied Energy Emission

Although electric cars are purported to be energy efficient, the energy required to produce these vehicles is relatively high. The electric cars seem eco-friendly if we only consider their operating energy emissions or the emissions produced while driving the car. For example, the fact that electric cars have zero carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions during operation suggests that these vehicles are very eco-friendly. However, achieving zero CO2 emissions while driving an electric car does not necessarily make them environmentally friendly because this metric does not account for embodied energy emissions.

Recommended: Electric Cars: Green Or A New Kind Of Liability?

Embodied energy is the sum of all the energy required to produce a product (including raw materials extraction, assembly, and transportation of the product), treating that energy as though it was incorporated or ’embodied’ in the product itself (Figure 1). The production of batteries and other EV components contributes to the majority of embodied energy emissions for these cars, as noted in this 2011 study. CO2 emissions explicitly related to materials and EV assembly are higher than that of a traditional car. In the end, electric cars do have lower total energy (embodied + operating) emissions as compared to conventional cars, making them more environmentally friendly overall. Being better, though, is not the same as being the best. These vehicles could be significantly more eco-friendly if we innovate to lower their unexpectedly high embodied energy emissions.

Graphic Embodied energy emissions during electric car production

Figure 1. Embodied energy emissions during electric car production. (i) Burning coal and natural gas to provide energy for mining, drilling, processing, and transportation of materials for battery and other vehicle components lead to CO2 emissions embodied in a typical electric car. (ii) Multiple factors contribute to the embodied energy emissions of a typical EV; as depicted, materials contribute significantly to this emission profile.

Innovative Light Weighting Of Electric Cars

One of the reasons that the embodied energy emissions of an electric car are higher than expected is because the materials required to make them are quite heavy, and thus their acquisition, processing, and transport lead to relatively high CO2 emissions. To render the electric car as environmentally friendly as they are purported to be, we must devise novel methods to lower the number of heavy materials required to produce EV components. One approach is light-weighting: a process that makes products lighter by reducing the number of materials used to make them. Using fewer materials reduces embodied energy emissions in the stages of material extraction, transportation, and assembly. As part of their EV Everywhere Grand Challenge, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) proposed to the lightweight electric car by 2022, explicitly reducing 35% of the weight of a car’s body structure, 25% of its base frame supporting the rest of the car, and 5% of its interior.

Recommended: Climate Change Efforts On Reducing CO2 Why Not Recycle It?

Various approaches to the light-weighting electric car include transitioning to lighter materials (e.g., substituting durable but lightweight organic materials for more massive, more traditional materials like iron) and redesigning battery components with less heavy metals. Additionally, a breakthrough method of light-weighting is being devised by Volvo to integrate battery components into the vehicle body. According to Volvo, the future EV body (made of reinforced carbon fibers) would sandwich the battery components. These battery components would be molded and formed to fit around the car’s frame, such as its door panels, trunk door, and wheel bowl (Figure 2).

Graphic 3 Scales with cars. Light weighting electric car reduces the amount of materials

Figure 2: Light weighting electric car reduces the number of materials and lowers total embodied energy emissions. (i) Heavy battery packs and electric drive components compose traditional electric cars and contribute to high embodied energy emissions. (ii) One approach to reducing these emissions is too lightweight batteries and vehicle components. (iii) Another innovative approach is to integrate cells into the vehicle body.

All of these light-weighting techniques will require the use of novel, sturdy, lightweight materials. A recent material science study presents a proof of the concept of using cellulose and carbon-fiber composites as materials that are strong enough but also light enough to achieve these light-weighting goals. However, these novel materials still need to be demonstrated on a commercial scale. According to the same study, organizations such as the Centre for Biocomposites and Biomaterials Processing (a materials science research center at the University of Toronto) are actively working to achieve success on this front. They have demonstrated that using cellulose and carbon-fiber composites instead of traditional materials like steel could reduce the weight of a vehicle by 15 to 30%. Such innovation at a commercial scale would make light-weighting a logical game-changer in the reduction of embodied energy emissions of the electric cars.

Recommended: Electric Car Conversion Kits: Electrified Class

An electric Car Without Light-Weighting: More Raw Material Extraction

In addition to lowering the embodied energy emissions of electric cars, light-weighting will also have an impact on the sustainability of electric cars production. Specifically, many of the materials used to achieve light-weighting are polymers that can be synthesized in laboratories. Some examples are polypropylene, polyurethane, and polyvinyl chloride (these three can be used for approximately 66% of electric car parts). This is in stark contrast to the traditional, heavier materials used to make an electric car, such as lithium, cobalt, manganese, and nickel. These raw materials must be mined and extracted from the earth before use, making them a less sustainable option than light weighting materials. Until our goals of light-weighting are achieved at a commercial scale, the electric cars will continue to depend on these heavy materials, thereby maintaining the need for continual raw material extraction.

According to a study by the U.S. Geological Survey, the U.S. already imports many of these rare earth minerals from other countries each year, adding to the increasing mining dependency for electric cars. As electrical car demand increases in the future, existing mining locations may become overexploited. Mining areas in Argentina (with 9 million tons of lithium resources), India (for manganese), Japan (for a nickel), China (for carbon), and conflict zones of the Democratic Republic of Congo (for cobalt) could face more pressure of resource extraction to meet these demands. Notably, these lands are natural habitats rich in flora and fauna, and mining these areas could harm their habitats. If mining practices in these lands are left unregulated, there could be a high environmental price to pay.

Recommended: Inequality And Over-Exploitation: All People Matter

The Gigafactory Approach: Source Globally, Produce Locally

Besides, light-weighting embodied energy emissions can also be lowered by transitioning from shipping batteries and other electric car components over long distances to producing them locally, closer to where the electric car is assembled. The United States International Trade Commission reported that the U.S. was the second highest importer of lithium-ion batteries (the batteries used in electric cars) from 2013 to 2017, with $2.5 billion worth of lithium-ion batteries imported in 2017 itself. There is a hidden environmental cost here, associated mainly with emissions from commercial container ships. Thus, producing cells and electric car components locally at electrical car factories could help reduce these emissions. The good news for the U.S. is that Tesla’s Gigafactory, a massive electric car assembly factory, will also produce lithium-ion batteries. The novel factory aims to account for 60% of global lithium-ion battery production by 2020. The Nevada Gigafactory produced over 20-gigawatt hours (GWh) worth of batteries in 2018 (in collaboration with Panasonic) while hoping to generate 35 GWh once fully operational. Once this is achieved, the U.S. would no longer need to import batteries but only source raw materials from existing global trade ties, thus decreasing energy expenditure on heavy battery transport (Figure 3).

Graphic World map of production and U.S. trade connections for battery and vehicle components

Figure 3: World map of production and U.S. trade connections for battery and vehicle components (i) The Tesla Gigafactory is located in Nevada (ii) Major materials like cobalt (Co), manganese (Mn), lithium (Li), nickel (N), and carbon (C) required for an electric car must be imported from around the world to produce batteries and other vehicle components at the Gigafactory.

Future opportunities for making the electric car truly ‘green.’

Reducing embodied energy emissions requires government support in establishing a framework of rules and regulations to ensure cost-effective, energy-efficient, and environmentally-friendly practices of raw material extraction and global transportation for EV components. Research investment in light-weighting electric cars and environmentally-friendly manufacturing of electric cars can be promoted through appropriate policy measures. Reducing embodied energy emissions from electric cars, coupled with expanding our use of public transit systems and eco-friendly living decisions (like choosing to walk rather than drive), can accelerate humanity towards the bigger goal of a fully low-carbon civilization.

Figures by Jovana Andrejevic

Before you go!

Recommended: Electric Solar Car 2020 Never Needs Charging

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Electric Cars Take Us To A Low Carbon Culture

Electric cars were once regarded as hopeless, tasteless, and incapable of replacing fossil fuel-powered vehicles. In 2006, the award-winning documentary 'Who Killed the Electric Car?' illustrated the impending obsolescence of electric cars after a series of failed experiments by the automotive industry. Electric Cars Take Us To A Low Carbon Culture The predicted doom didn’t stop environmentalists from pressing for the industry to make a better electric car, however. Over the next decade, the industry responded to these requests by rolling out the electric car like Tesla Model 3 and Nissan Leaf as frontline products. These electric cars fuelled a new wave of strategies to combat the effects of climate change, and today, these vehicles strongly foreshadow the imminent end of fossil fuel-powered vehicles. The worldwide projection of electric cars as mechanical messiahs begs us to ask the question: are electric vehicles really as environmentally friendly as they seem? Recommended: Our Focus On CO2 Alone: Other Climate Culprits Electric Cars: Embodied Energy Emission Although electric cars are purported to be energy efficient, the energy required to produce these vehicles is relatively high. The electric cars seem eco-friendly if we only consider their operating energy emissions or the emissions produced while driving the car. For example, the fact that electric cars have zero carbon dioxide (CO 2 ) emissions during operation suggests that these vehicles are very eco-friendly. However, achieving zero CO 2  emissions while driving an electric car does not necessarily make them environmentally friendly because this metric does not account for embodied energy emissions. Recommended:  Electric Cars: Green Or A New Kind Of Liability? Embodied energy is the sum of all the energy required to produce a product (including raw materials extraction, assembly, and transportation of the product), treating that energy as though it was incorporated or ’embodied’ in the product itself (Figure 1). The production of batteries and other EV components contributes to the majority of embodied energy emissions for these cars, as noted in this 2011 study. CO 2  emissions explicitly related to materials and EV assembly are higher than that of a traditional car. In the end, electric cars do have lower total energy (embodied + operating) emissions as compared to conventional cars, making them more environmentally friendly overall. Being better, though, is not the same as being the best. These vehicles could be significantly more eco-friendly if we innovate to lower their unexpectedly high embodied energy emissions. Figure 1. Embodied energy emissions during electric car production. (i) Burning coal and natural gas to provide energy for mining, drilling, processing, and transportation of materials for battery and other vehicle components lead to CO2 emissions embodied in a typical electric car. (ii) Multiple factors contribute to the embodied energy emissions of a typical EV; as depicted, materials contribute significantly to this emission profile. Innovative Light Weighting Of Electric Cars One of the reasons that the embodied energy emissions of an electric car are higher than expected is because the materials required to make them are quite heavy, and thus their acquisition, processing, and transport lead to relatively high CO2 emissions. To render the electric car as environmentally friendly as they are purported to be, we must devise novel methods to lower the number of heavy materials required to produce EV components. One approach is light-weighting: a process that makes products lighter by reducing the number of materials used to make them. Using fewer materials reduces embodied energy emissions in the stages of material extraction, transportation, and assembly. As part of their EV Everywhere Grand Challenge, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) proposed to the lightweight electric car by 2022, explicitly reducing 35% of the weight of a car’s body structure, 25% of its base frame supporting the rest of the car, and 5% of its interior. Recommended: Climate Change Efforts On Reducing CO2 Why Not Recycle It? Various approaches to the light-weighting electric car include transitioning to lighter materials (e.g., substituting durable but lightweight organic materials for more massive, more traditional materials like iron) and redesigning battery components with less heavy metals. Additionally, a breakthrough method of light-weighting is being devised by Volvo to integrate battery components into the vehicle body. According to Volvo, the future EV body (made of reinforced carbon fibers) would sandwich the battery components. These battery components would be molded and formed to fit around the car’s frame, such as its door panels, trunk door, and wheel bowl (Figure 2). Figure 2: Light weighting electric car reduces the number of materials and lowers total embodied energy emissions. (i) Heavy battery packs and electric drive components compose traditional electric cars and contribute to high embodied energy emissions. (ii) One approach to reducing these emissions is too lightweight batteries and vehicle components. (iii) Another innovative approach is to integrate cells into the vehicle body. All of these light-weighting techniques will require the use of novel, sturdy, lightweight materials. A recent material science study presents a proof of the concept of using cellulose and carbon-fiber composites as materials that are strong enough but also light enough to achieve these light-weighting goals. However, these novel materials still need to be demonstrated on a commercial scale. According to the same study, organizations such as the Centre for Biocomposites and Biomaterials Processing (a materials science research center at the University of Toronto) are actively working to achieve success on this front. They have demonstrated that using cellulose and carbon-fiber composites instead of traditional materials like steel could reduce the weight of a vehicle by 15 to 30%. Such innovation at a commercial scale would make light-weighting a logical game-changer in the reduction of embodied energy emissions of the electric cars. Recommended:  Electric Car Conversion Kits: Electrified Class An electric Car Without Light-Weighting: More Raw Material Extraction In addition to lowering the embodied energy emissions of electric cars, light-weighting will also have an impact on the sustainability of electric cars production. Specifically, many of the materials used to achieve light-weighting are polymers that can be synthesized in laboratories. Some examples are polypropylene, polyurethane, and polyvinyl chloride (these three can be used for approximately 66% of electric car parts). This is in stark contrast to the traditional, heavier materials used to make an electric car, such as lithium, cobalt, manganese, and nickel. These raw materials must be mined and extracted from the earth before use, making them a less sustainable option than light weighting materials. Until our goals of light-weighting are achieved at a commercial scale, the electric cars will continue to depend on these heavy materials, thereby maintaining the need for continual raw material extraction. According to a study by the U.S. Geological Survey, the U.S. already imports many of these rare earth minerals from other countries each year, adding to the increasing mining dependency for electric cars. As electrical car demand increases in the future, existing mining locations may become overexploited. Mining areas in Argentina (with 9 million tons of lithium resources), India (for manganese), Japan (for a nickel), China (for carbon), and conflict zones of the Democratic Republic of Congo (for cobalt) could face more pressure of resource extraction to meet these demands. Notably, these lands are natural habitats rich in flora and fauna, and mining these areas could harm their habitats. If mining practices in these lands are left unregulated, there could be a high environmental price to pay. Recommended: Inequality And Over-Exploitation: All People Matter The Gigafactory Approach: Source Globally, Produce Locally Besides, light-weighting embodied energy emissions can also be lowered by transitioning from shipping batteries and other electric car components over long distances to producing them locally, closer to where the electric car is assembled. The United States International Trade Commission reported that the U.S. was the second highest importer of lithium-ion batteries (the batteries used in electric cars) from 2013 to 2017, with $2.5 billion worth of lithium-ion batteries imported in 2017 itself. There is a hidden environmental cost here, associated mainly with emissions from commercial container ships. Thus, producing cells and electric car components locally at electrical car factories could help reduce these emissions. The good news for the U.S. is that Tesla’s Gigafactory, a massive electric car assembly factory, will also produce lithium-ion batteries. The novel factory aims to account for 60% of global lithium-ion battery production by 2020. The Nevada Gigafactory produced over 20-gigawatt hours (GWh) worth of batteries in 2018 (in collaboration with Panasonic) while hoping to generate 35 GWh once fully operational. Once this is achieved, the U.S. would no longer need to import batteries but only source raw materials from existing global trade ties, thus decreasing energy expenditure on heavy battery transport (Figure 3). Figure 3: World map of production and U.S. trade connections for battery and vehicle components (i) The Tesla Gigafactory is located in Nevada (ii) Major materials like cobalt (Co), manganese (Mn), lithium (Li), nickel (N), and carbon (C) required for an electric car must be imported from around the world to produce batteries and other vehicle components at the Gigafactory. Future opportunities for making the electric car truly ‘green.’ Reducing embodied energy emissions requires government support in establishing a framework of rules and regulations to ensure cost-effective, energy-efficient, and environmentally-friendly practices of raw material extraction and global transportation for EV components. Research investment in light-weighting electric cars and environmentally-friendly manufacturing of electric cars can be promoted through appropriate policy measures. Reducing embodied energy emissions from electric cars, coupled with expanding our use of public transit systems and eco-friendly living decisions (like choosing to walk rather than drive), can accelerate humanity towards the bigger goal of a fully low-carbon civilization. F igures by Jovana Andrejevic Before you go! Recommended:  Electric Solar Car 2020 Never Needs Charging Did you find this an interesting article, or do you have a question or remark? Leave a comment below. We try to respond the same day. Like to write your article about electric cars? Click on  'Register'  or push the button 'Write An Article' on the  'HomePage.'
Stay Updated on Environmental Improvements And Global Innovations