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European Environment Agency: Electric vehicles’ ecosystem & human toxicity impact twice as high as combustion engine vehicles

By Jakob Puckett

Excerpt: It’s common to hear that electric vehicles are “zero-emissions vehicles,” meaning they emit no greenhouse gases while a user drives them. While technically true, this is far from the whole picture, because what also matters is the lifetime environmental impact of an electric vehicle.

Indeed, according to the European Environment Agency (EEA), electric vehicles have an ecosystem and human toxicity impact twice as high as typical combustion engine vehicles. See, electric vehicle manufacturing makes heavy use of critical minerals, most notably cobalt and lithium, that are concentrated in specific parts of the world.

The process of mining and manufacturing batteries from them leads to chemical runoff that ruins natural food supplies, strains water tables and, for cobalt, often employs child labor in cutthroat conditions. About 500,000 pounds of materials are moved and processed for each thousand pounds of battery produced, which is a quite carbon-intensive process. Manufacturing the lithium-ion battery alone emits roughly as many greenhouse gases as manufacturing an entire gas or diesel-powered vehicle.

And how environmentally-friendly electric vehicles are when the rubber meets the road ultimately depends on where their electric power is sourced. Indeed, the EEA report notes that vehicles charged on a coal-dominated grid emit more greenhouse gases than comparable gas and diesel-powered vehicles. And vehicles powered by the average European electric mix only have about 25-30% less greenhouse gas emissions than gas or diesel-powered vehicles do, so even on a greener electric mix, electric vehicles are far from claims of zero emissions.

These reality checks are not an indictment of electric vehicles — they simply serve to remind that even “green” technology can be harmful. Electric vehicles someday may have a large market that can provide significant environmental benefits under the right circumstances. Those circumstances, though, are better manufacturing processes and a less-carbon-intense electric supply.


Watch: Morano on China TV debating electric cars