How Eco-Friendly is an Electric Car?

By Gabriel Ramos-Cool

Driving an electric car isn’t as eco-friendly as one might think. It boils down to where you get your energy from. On the West Coast, we get a good amount energy from more renewable resources like solar and wind. Generally speaking however, the rest of the country relies more on fossil fuels in order to power their homes. This can be an issue if you are dedicating to saving the environment via electric car because an electric car is only as environmentally friendly as its energy source. By using renewable resources to power these vehicles, the total environmental cost would dramatically decrease and one could start to call them ‘sustainable-ish.’

A spokesperson for Tesla stated recently that “It takes as much energy to produce a gallon of gasoline as a Model S consumes in 20 miles of driving, according to Department of Energy data.” (wired) If this were true the only factor that went into the production of electric cars, bravo Tesla. However there are several different manufacturing processes that have not been made as public. The mining of rare earth metals is required in order to create a lightweight and longer lasting batteries to make an electric car have a similar convenience factor as a typical petroleum powered car. The mining is done in China, where “workers dig eight-foot holes and pour ammonium sulfate into them to dissolve the sandy clay. Then they haul out bags of muck and pass it through several acid baths; what’s left is baked in a kiln, leaving behind the rare earths required by everything from our phones to our Tesla’s.” (wired) Unfortunately less than half of a percent of the volume that the workers mine is remotely close to what they’re looking for. This is why, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, it takes more energy to produce an electric car than it does its fossil fuel powered counterpart.

Once the batteries are finally in your car and you’re driving along without a worry in the world because you’re part of a “zero-emission” family, the “charge” light turns on in your Tesla. You wonder, then where does this energy come from? Well in truth, it depends on where you’re located in the U.S. California tends to have cleaner energy sources than the rest of the country, therefore driving an electric car in Cali does pollute less than even a Toyota Prius. “But in the Midwest and South, where coal fuels the bulk of electricity generation, a hybrid produces less CO2 than an electric car.” (S.A.) An electric car powered by clean energy can emit as low as 100g of CO2 per mile whereas when it uses coal as a means of energy, it can go up to 300g/mile. According to the EPA, “Every gallon of gasoline burned creates about 8,887 grams of CO2.” Driving a car that gets 35mpg would result in less carbon pollution (about 250g of CO2/mile) than a coal powered car. “Sixty-eight percent of the electricity generated in the United States is generated from fossil fuels, and half of that amount, or one-third of the total electricity generated, comes from coal.” (national)

There is no cure all answer to this transportation question, however if you do happen to drive an electric vehicle, know that depending on where you get your electricity, you might be polluting more than your gasoline-powered counterparts. If we were to invest in cleaner energy across the nation, then electric vehicles have the potential to be economically friendly than fossil fueled cars.

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