In the morning, you get behind the wheel of your gasoline or diesel car, start the car, clean the windshield accumulated with ice, and spin a cloud of smoke and carbon dioxide behind the car.
You drive out of the yard and notice a stylish and futuristic electric car at the first traffic light. If you don’t look around, you won’t even notice, because it’s almost not audible, and you can’t even smell it, unlike some old diesels. When you are standing at a traffic light, you look in your rearview mirror and you notice a cloud of smoke rising from your car, and there is no sign of the electric car running. You might think and think about how much damage internal combustion vehicles cause and how greener electric vehicles are. You’re not the only one, as electric car manufacturers are doing their best to convince people of their message of a greener future.
How green is this electric receiver? How green are electric cars? What lies behind it and how much truth is not told? It is not only about the production of batteries, but also about the controversial ethical practices in sourcing some essential raw materials for the manufacture of electric vehicles and also the exclusive right of manufacturers to repair vehicles. All this and more below.
Electric cars: Electrification is inevitable
More and more car manufacturers are committed to the production of electric cars, including the largest giants in this field. General Motors will go all-or-nothing by 2035, Volkswagen will increase its share of electric vehicles to 70% by 2030, and Audi will stop designing cars with internal combustion engines (ICE) by 2025. Manufacturers are also encouraged by the world’s governments with new measures . For example, the European Union will set stricter emissions standards by 2025. The United Kingdom plans to end the sale of classic cars by 2030 and France by 2040.
What will happen to all internal combustion cars?
There are more than 1.4 billion ICE vehicles in use worldwide. If the predictions for the next 10 years come true and we switch entirely to electric propulsion, what will happen to used cars? Waste is already cracking at the seams and we can’t imagine being able to accept so much mass of iron. In an effort to solve one climate crisis, we can create a new one. The more we dig, the more doubts grow about the “greenness” of electric cars.
The controversial practice of manufacturers (especially Tesla), who hold exclusive rights to repair their electric cars, may be of greater concern than (more than) wasting rusty vehicles. It is true that internal combustion vehicles cause serious damage to the environment, but they have a better decomposition process at the end of their life, which electric vehicles should emulate to some extent. However, this is almost impossible until manufacturers give up their exclusive right to repair.
Steve Fletcher, director of Canadian Auto Recycling, revealed in an interview with Forbes what happens to cars after their death. 83% of internal combustion compounds are ‘conserved’ or recycled. Recyclers dispose of all liquids (gasoline, oil, wiper fluid…) for further use or recycling. Working parts are equipped for sale in the used spare parts market. When they extract everything useful from the car, they press it and sell it to companies that recycle the metal. Plastics, textiles and carpets are found only in landfills. It is also important that the vehicle identification number (VIN) provides a detailed insight into the history of the original and replaced parts on the vehicle. This information is provided by service workshops, recycling and aftermarket shops, which form a unique ecosystem. The presence of such a system significantly reduces the cost of car repair and also extends the life of the car.
Simply put, this would not be possible if the manufacturers of diesel and gasoline cars had the exclusive right to repair. In the case of electric cars, the story is just the opposite.
Right to repair…
… means that reform is in the hands of well-defined institutions. Apple is a good example of the right to repair, as it is one of the few technology companies that does not support repairs from third-party vendors, and also provides repairers with insufficient knowledge and diagnostic tools. why? Thus, customers are encouraged to buy a new device rather than have it repaired. All in the name of greater profits. The good thing about the long history of ICE vehicles is that over time, manufacturers have had to reveal the secrets of operating their vehicles, thus enabling the development of the aforementioned ecosystem, which extends the life of ICE vehicles. With the advent of electric cars, the issue of intellectual property has re-emerged. In addition to all of the above, electric vehicle manufacturers are reluctant to share their diagnostic equipment to keep customers in check. They are also not generous in revealing the history of the electrical components on a vehicle’s VIN number. Thus, service technicians and recyclers cannot access information about what is under the hood, what happens to batteries/electric motors and how to fix various malfunctions.
All this means potential costs for car owners in the event of a breakdown or accident. To some extent, it’s true that electric cars are less perishable, but there are still many things that need to be fixed throughout the life of a car. However, in this case, the repair bill can be absurdly high, which was also felt by the Finnish owner, who preferred to blow up his Tesla S rather than pay €20,000 for a new battery pack.
What can electric car manufacturers do?
- They waive the right to repair and provide independent service providers with all necessary diagnostic and repair tools.
- Manufacturing electric cars that are easy to disassemble or use for spare parts.
- The possibility of renewing and reusing batteries, and the possibility of renting old batteries for longer use
Electric cars: Who mines raw materials to make batteries and other electrical components?
“Without drastic changes, the batteries that power green vehicles will continue to get dirty due to human rights violations.”
Kumi Naidoo, Secretary General of Amnesty International
Amnesty International warns of grave health risks to children and adult workers in cobalt mines in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Read more in their report. More than half of the world’s cobalt comes from the southern Democratic Republic of the Congo. The researchers spent considerable time observing the events and visiting nine sites, including deep mines, that were excavated by hand with basic tools. The youngest miners (even as young as seven) earn just $1 a day, and they’ve documented several cases of chronic lung disease from exposure to cobalt dust.
Cobalt moves from these mines to the warehouses of all major producers. Currently, no country has laws that require manufacturers to report on their supply chains. Amnesty International warns that until global legislation is drastically changed, every battery produced will be filthy with child labor and those most used.
Lithium-ion batteries, which power most electric cars today, need other important and controversial minerals, such as graphite, lithium and manganese, in addition to cobalt. When a new electric car appears in the showroom, it has already caused 13.6 tons of carbon dioxide emissions. In comparison, a conventional car produces 6.3 tons of carbon dioxide in production2 emissions. Not much better on the road either. If most of the electricity needed to charge batteries came from coal-fired power plants, the electric car would produce 400g extra emissions with every kilometer driven than a gasoline-powered car. The number improves if the electric vehicle is used for a longer period of time and if we produce the most electricity in a more sustainable way. In this case, the electric vehicle will produce up to 30% less emissions than a gasoline-powered vehicle. However, this is a far cry from an emissions-free future.
The electrical industry still has a long way to go. First, the environmental and human impact of battery production must be mitigated. There are already batteries on the market that do not need cobalt during production. They are called lithium phosphate batteries or LFP batteries. However, it has one major drawback: lower power density and therefore lower range. In the next two decades, it will also be necessary to upgrade existing electricity networks if we are to electrify traffic.
Whatever the words of the manufacturers and their marketing teams, the harsh reality is that an ethically flawless and emissions-free future has many obstacles ahead.