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What are the Downsides of Electric Cars?

On May 2, 2022, the Biden Administration announced it would begin a $3.1 billion plan to increase domestic manufacturing of batteries to help the United States produce more electric vehicles (EVs). Ultimately, the goal is to mitigate human-caused climate change as the transportation sector is the most significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. However, it’s important to note that electricity and industry are the second and third biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions.

The problem is that EVs have their own set of environmental, socioeconomic, and humanitarian complications. Further, the increase in emissions in the industry and electricity sectors that will be required to make EVs on a global scale may offset many of the benefits that are associated with next-gen vehicles.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (2022) Greenhouse Gas Emissions by Economic Sector

From the mining that takes place to manufacture the batteries to the devastation to aquatic life, this form of next-generation transportation has a variety of faults. To take a closer look, BenchForce, a leader in automotive bench programming components, looks at the downsides of EVs.

Disrupts the Lives of Indigenous People

The rapid push for renewable energy has created the next gold rush, except this time, massive corporations are panning for lithium, cobalt, and nickel. These key ingredients make EV batteries possible.

However, the demand for lithium from EVs has caused the indigenous people in Chile—where roughly 40% of the world's lithium resides—to lose the sacred Atacama salt flats. The constant exploration from some of the mining industry's most prominent players has ignited violent protests for mining to cease. Similar to Chile, The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has become the de facto capital of the world for another EV material: cobalt. Currently, over 70 percent of all cobalt mining occurs there.

Because the DRC is one of the poorest countries in the world, people are forced to make difficult financial and work decisions to survive. People have destroyed their homes digging for EV metals, literally digging through the floor, creating tunnels under their neighbors' homes, and risking major cave-ins.

Many women also make money washing raw mining material, which is packed with toxic metals, some of which are radioactive. A recent study in The Lancet found that women in southern Congo "had metal concentrations that are among the highest ever reported for pregnant women."

Damages Marine Ecosystems & Polluting Water

Mining for nickel and refining has caused severe damage to marine ecosystems worldwide, from Canada and Russia to Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. Every year, mining companies dump 220 million tons of hazardous waste directly into oceans, rivers, and lakes. To put that into perspective, that's more waste than the entire United States puts into its landfills.

These practices obliterate fish populations, smother coral reefs, and cause wetlands to flood. Moreover, it’s also polluting our water supply and jeopardizing our health. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), unsafe water kills more people each year than war and all other forms of violence combined. A recent study found that polluted water was responsible for 1.8 million deaths in 2015.

While many countries, including the United States, have wastewater treatment facilities, more than 80 percent of the world's wastewater flows back into the environment without being treated. In fact, even in the United States, the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that 850 billion gallons leave treatment facilities untreated.

Contaminated water also sickens roughly 1 billion people annually, and low-income communities are disproportionately at risk. From cancer and hormone disruption to nervous system effects and gastrointestinal illness, heavy metals and chemicals in our water can cause a host of health issues.

Minimizes Biodiversity

While cobalt is a key ingredient in making EV batteries, which could ultimately help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it's currently a massive burden on the environment. As mining occurs, companies cut down trees, build roads, run gas-powered heavy machinery, and use a substantial amount of electricity.

As this happens, animals are displaced, wetlands are destroyed, and aquatic life is smothered in toxins. In and around mines, there are entire "dead zones" where there is almost no life aside from the people digging for cobalt. And, it's not just happening overseas. There are plant species in the U.S. that have landed on the endangered species list due to the race for lithium.

So, Are EVs Better for the Environment?

The International Council on Clean Transportation suggests electric vehicles produce 60 to 68 percent fewer emissions over their lifetime than gas-powered cars. However, companies only recycle about 5% of the world's lithium batteries compared to 99% of lead-acid car batteries. The more lithium batteries end up in landfills, the more hazardous waste leaks into the soil and groundwater.

Even beyond the long-term effects of pollution from heavy metals ending up in water supplies and landfills, battery production may be the most environmentally damaging stage in the manufacturing process of EVs. The European Environment Agency (EEA) found batteries alone account for 10 to 75 percent of the energy and 10 percent to 70 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions resulting from the entire production of the vehicle.

Without a lithium battery, the production of electric and gas-powered vehicles would be nearly identical. However, with it, the EEA found the production of electric cars emits between 1.3 and 2 times more greenhouse gases than their internal combustion counterparts.

Consider this fact as well: People are charging EVs on an electrical grid that is powered by fossil fuels. Currently, only 20% of the electricity in the United States is from renewable energy. But here’s the other kicker: The resource demands of 100 percent renewable energy will more than likely exceed the earth’s reserves of cobalt, lithium, and nickel.

Therefore, in the near term, EVs actually produce more greenhouse gasses than gas-powered vehicles, as well as various economic and humanitarian issues. Although it's true that a vehicle makes more carbon dioxide during its lifecycle while burning gasoline than it does during the manufacturing process, it still could make more sense from a green perspective to keep your old car running as long as possible due to the high environmental costs to manufacture a new automobile and junk an old one.

Optimize Your Ride

It’s clear that EVs have various downsides. To reduce your own carbon footprint, it may be better to ensure your current ride is running as well as possible. Whether you’re looking to improve gas mileage or simply program a replacement stock ECU, TCM, or BCM to keep your car running, BenchForce has the programming components you need to make the most out of your vehicle.

If you’re looking to reprogram your car engine with more convenient tools, browse BenchForce’s selection of Engine Control Unit (ECU) programming harnesses.