A study that questions some of the more common assumptions about the environmental benefits of electric cars has been published by engineers based at the Norwegian University of Science and technology.
The report, published in the Journal of Industrial Ecology, addresses the issue of “problem-shifting”. Essentially, this means that by trying to address one problem, have electric cars caused another, separate problem? Does the negative impact of electric cars outweigh the benefits?
The authors draw attention to the “toxicity” in the manufacture of electric cars, as compared to petrol/diesel cars. The conclusion: the global warming potential of the process is twice as high when it comes to electric cars. The study also highlights a point that has been made frequently by others: if the electricity that powers electric cars comes from coal-fired power plants, then the environmental advantage is completely negated. The report states: “It is counterproductive to promote EVs in regions where electricity is produced from oil, coal, and lignite combustion. The electrification of transportation should be accompanied by a sharpened policy focus with regard to life cycle management, and thus counter potential setbacks in terms of water pollution and toxicity.”
The study seems to make a case for reexamining some of our assumptions about the “green” credentials of electric cars. The authors, on the other hand, have said that their focus is to make available data-driven insights that will help improve the environmental performance of electric cars and help determine in which conditions it is beneficial to promote and use these vehicles.
The study raises complex questions, to which there are no simple answers. At Baird’s CMC, we believe the need of the hour is to have a nuanced, thoughtful debate, wherein the data produced by the study can be discussed and areas that require more research can be determined. This could lead to constructive suggestions to improve the pollution-mitigation goals of electric vehicles.