Sustainable, emission-free, environmentally conscious – the calls for green mobility are getting louder. But how environmentally friendly are electric cars really?
Sustainable, emission-free, environmentally conscious! Electric cars are a trend which began in the U.S. in the 90s in order to gain independence from the oil of Arabic countries. Even German politicians and economic leaders jumped on the bandwagon and demanded more green mobility. Not necessarily for environmental reasons, but from an economic viewpoint. Electric cars are perfect for storing surplus electricity, and the U.S. is an important market for the German auto industry.
More energy in construction
They require 40% more energy to be built, but therefore don’t produce any CO2 when driving. Still, large amounts of CO2 are emitted along the production line, for example during steel melt or aluminium processing. Furthermore, 80% of rare metals required for Li-Ion battery production stem from Chinese mines that are neither environmentally friendly nor humanely run.
When Toyota brought the first hybrid on the market, it was hailed as a breakthrough for the environment. Under closer inspection, a hybrid is remarkably heavier than its petrol counterpart due to the weighty generator and additional electric motor. Didn’t Einstein state that mass is weight, and more weight needs proportionally more energy to be moved? The hybrid car generates energy on short distances, yet consumes more energy on the motorway.
BMW saves on weight in its lightweight sportscar i8. The super-fast hybrid exchanges steel for plastic and drives all of 37 km electrically at 120 km/h. That’s enough to get from the outskirts into the city of Zürich. On longer distances, the three-cylinder turbo motor manages with 5.5 litres per 100 km – a pretty meagre result for 362 HP!
The question is whether the savings are in proportion to the 162,000 CHF cost? After all, a Fiat 500 TwinAir doesn’t need more petrol, but is remarkably cheaper.
Energy guzzlers and CO2 producers
Hydro-electric power plants also deliver less electricity during glacial melts and low water volume in lakes and rivers. Solar panels require up to two years to generate as much energy as was needed to produce them. Offshore wind turbines are real energy guzzlers and CO2 producers in their construction. They compromise the hearing of marine mammals and affect currents, both of which have an impact on climate. Moreover, the metal is treated with anti-corrosive and anti-fouling agents, which can potentially leak into the surrounding waters. Toxins are also present in batteries, which pose problems when chargers are disposed of improperly.
Despite the gloom-mongering, the development of environmentally friendly cars should not be hindered. We just need to learn to think in life cycles and consider the whole production chain in our calculations, from well to wheel.
Read the original article in German in BILANZ
Photo credit: Redcorn Studios [Matt], flickr/Creative Commons