Environment, Science

Impact of electric cars questioned

A study released on Friday 5 October calls previous assumptions over the positive environmental impact of electric cars into question.

The study, conducted by Norwegian scientists and published in The Journal of Industrial Ecology, reports that the environmental cost or “global warming potential” (GWP), of producing electric cars is twice as expensive as the environmental cost of producing traditional fossil fuel vehicles.

According to the study, evaluations of electric cars based just on fuel efficiency “miss key differences.”

Ironically, this negative GWP is caused many times by the components that give electric cars their environmental edge.

For example, the batteries that power electric cars are made out from toxic minerals like nickel, copper, and aluminium, the production of which can contaminate soil and drinking water.

The study notes that while electric cars are more fuel efficient than traditional cars, this perceived benefit is practically moot with electricity produced in areas that draw power primarily from coal or oil.

Electric cars’ popularity increased significantly in the past decade, largely due to their perceived positive GWP. They also cost less in the long run, reports The Guardian in an article released last month.

That is, providing that one can afford the upfront cost of the vehicles, about £30,000 for the 2012 Vauxhall Ampera. Finding places and the time to charge electric cars also present concerns.

Despite these negative effects, emphasis is put on the positive impact that the very idea of electric cars gives the environment.

The study highlights that “[electric cars] are an important technological breakthrough”. The GWP of electric cars will decrease as the infrastructure used in their manufacture improves.

Until then, there is a possibility that a more significant reduction in GWP would be achieved by changing from petrol to diesel vehicles rather than making the jump to electric.

09/10/2012

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Grace Kramer