The electric car debate has been raging for years and, with no clear winner of it in sight, it is now time for we the people to decide if the new alternative is better than gasoline-powered cars. While electric cars are perceived and marketed as clean, eco-friendly, and green, are they actually better for the environment? Or, from the beginning of the manufacturing process to when they are done for and disposed of, are electric cars just as bad as gas-powered cars?
When an electric car is made, they need rare metals such as lithium, which is used for its batteries. When the Jiangxi mine has to mine for lithium, they use toxic chemicals to dissolve the clay around the metal and run it through acid baths just to get 0.2% of the total material used. The remaining 99.8% is dumped back into the earth, now contaminated with toxic chemicals. Also, instead of using chemicals to find rare metals, companies use giant mining machines that bring massive power bills with them. These machines also spew massive amounts of carbon dioxide into the air as well as pollute the soil. While the process of making a gasoline car is also not environmentally friendly, on average, an electric car’s manufacturing emissions are 68% higher than a gasoline car. Before an electric car has even been driven, it has already had a greater environmental impact. So do the subsequent emissions of a gas car cancel out the effects of mining?
Fortunately, an electric car makes up for the excess pollution in the manufacturing process in just 18 months. This would be equivalent to having a car that drives 85 miles per gallon. This result is astonishingly 60.1 miles higher than the average of 24.9 miles per gallon. Beyond cutting down air pollution, if 40 percent of new vehicles produced were electric, we could cut the usage of 1.5 million barrels of oil per day. Today, electric cars are becoming more and more popular and the nation is starting to realize this. With the continuous increase in electric car charging stations, electric cars will become even more efficient and continue to phase out the age of gas cars.
Reducing carbon emissions is critical to helping the environment. Currently, transportation methods produce 29% of the world’s carbon emissions. 90% of those are from gas cars and diesel trucks. These carbon emissions are the largest share of emissions, topping both commercial and agricultural emissions combined. Unfortunately, 60% of the electricity used to recharge the batteries of electric cars comes from fossil fuels. While this is better than a gas car’s energy, which comes from 100% fossil fuels, electric cars are (falsely) advertised to be “zero-emissions.” Again, the secrets of how they are made and how they charge up are again too good to be true.
However, we must also look at what happens when the cars are at the end of their life and have to be trashed. The CTO of Tesla, JB Straubel, has promised that “Tesla will absolutely recycle — and we do recycle — all of our spent cells, modules, and battery packs.” This is huge. Tesla is already taking an important step in improving the environment and helping the company save money. This saves an enormous amount of landfill waste from the company. In the US alone, 12-15 million cars are sent to a landfill and shredded. This produces about 5 million tons of landfill waste yearly. Electric cars have the potential to change that number for the better by having people reuse their cars and change out the recycled batteries.
All in all, despite some false or at least overstated claims, electric cars have the potential to impact the world positively. By investing more deeply in electric cars, we can help make the planet great again while at the same time releasing an exciting new type of car into the market.
Andrew Zeng is an eighth-grader at Shadyside Academy who enjoys Science Olympiad, robotics, hockey, and music. He is passionate about writing and hopes that his writing can have an impact on the world.