EVs - The Panacea for Pollution

Updated: Oct 30

Electric Car

Image Graphics by Team Geostrata

In the contemporary world, Electric Vehicles (EVs) have become the holy grail of the automobile sector, promoted by governments globally and necessitated by the ever-increasing pollution. Green vehicles have emerged as the panacea for climate change conundrum and led to a paradigm shift in the transportation technology as Internal Combustion Engines (ICEs) are being rapidly replaced by newer and eco-friendly systems, eventually placating the evil of carbon emission. But, does substituting wheelers consuming fossil fuels with EVs really solve the problem? Is it evident that electrified vehicles entail zero carbon emissions? Is the new technology sustainable and what are the alternatives which can be researched and worked upon?

EVs run on highly clean engines which do not emit any hazardous gas directly but they do contribute to carbon emission indirectly. The manufacturing of these vehicles require extraction of lithium ion which is the be-all and end-all element in their production. Miners use heavy machineries and resort to deforestation for site clearing which eventually leads to augmentation of carbon emissions. Surprisingly, assembling a lithium-ion battery for a long range EV generates 68% more carbon emissions than a traditional car which eventually adds to the sum of ‘neglected indirect’ oozing of greenhouse gases. Although, utilising electric engines cuts the total emissions by more than 50% as compared to a gasoline engine, we should not turn a blind eye towards the less conspicuous impacts of manufacturing a Tesla, Hyundai Iqoniq or a BMW i3.

Reuters’ research suggests that the carbon footprint of an EV is more than that of a gasoline car until it reaches its first operator. But in due course, the former catches up with the latter, becoming adaptable to the environment, based on the charging power source i.e. coal or any renewable source.

India’s visionary target of transforming itself into a 100% electric vehicle nation by 2030 will put stress on existing lithium reserves, a major chunk of which is concentrated in South-American countries of Bolivia, Argentina and Chile, alternatively known as the region's ‘lithium triangle’. Not only India, but every big economy is striving to churn their transportation sector, inclusive of public and private spheres by adapting to electric power driven vehicles, steering countries like Taiwan to double down on producing lithium-ion batteries, eventually soaking out the silvery metal’s reserves. Lithium extraction is water-intensive which contaminates water resources available in mine’s vicinity, wreaking havoc on marine life. Apparently, more than 220000 litres of water is consumed for extracting 1 metric tonne of the coveted metal. It won’t be incorrect to conjecture from these facts that the claims made by automobile conglomerates germane to EV’s being completely eco-friendly are nothing more than bogus. In future, we would be discoursing about dwindling lithium reserves just like we do regarding coal and other non-renewable resources in the present time.

Metamorphosing the Indian transport industry will laden it with economic problems. India is not blessed with abundance of lithium & lithium-ion reserves which makes it inevitable to import lithium from the ‘global-south’. This can augment India’s already deteriorating trade deficit as a push for EV production will stress our import bill. Neither lithium nor its batteries are available in India and this can compromise with India’s goal of ‘self-reliance’. China is a major lithium producer and India’s lithium imports from its adversary are climbing ladders, increasing from 19.79% in 2019 to 32.05% in 2021. Although, Department Atomic Energy has confirmed the presence of lithium reserves in Karnataka, it is still a distant dream for the country to achieve self-sufficiency in this realm.

Conundrum of Sources of Power Generation

Life-long efficiency of EVs hangs on the power generation sources. There is quite a strong case in making for shunning power generation through non-renewable sources such as coal as it is not sustainable and in turn affects vehicle’s efficacy. To compare the leading economies, UK’s power generation through coal is 39.8% whereas India’s share in the same is a mammoth 67.9%. Countries like India still lags behind in tapping its environment friendly power generation resources as only 5% (excluding hydroelectricity and nuclear) power is conceived out of them whereas its counterpart UK leads the way in this sphere by producing more than 9% (excluding hydroelectricity and nuclear) of its electricity through wind and other renewable resources. It can be inferred from the above stats that running an electric vehicle in India won’t be much plausible as charging cars implicitly with the fossil fuels will meddle with the paramount goal of attaining zero-carbon emissions.

But with every new power project being laid, based upon renewable sources, green vehicles are getting cleaner.

Alternative Approach

Aforementioned facts and analysis are not enough per se to reach a concrete conclusion. It’s a giant leap taken by the governments all around the globe to introduce and promote EVs on a massive scale but within this domain, the focus should be on electrifying public transportation and incentivizing it for the masses and specially upper classes who prefer commuting by private cars. Adding electric bus fleets and stimulating ‘metrofication’ of cities is necessary to create a streamlined road transportation system which will also aid the government in achieving net-zero emissions by 2070. Inception of an efficient ‘tram system' such as those prevalent in European countries can prove to be a game changer as it serves basic door-to-door commutation needs of people as compared to a metro or bus. A super intensive power driven public transportation network will justify the utilisation of a cleaner and greener technology as making private vehicles a focal point of this project would be more or less a short-term and a narrow minded approach.

Moreover, making the case stronger for extra investment in public transportation are the exorbitant prices of high range Teslas, Tatas and Hyundais. A Tata Nexon EV is priced at 15 lakh rupees which is far more than reachable for an Indian middle class family to get their hands on. This will squeeze the scope for the EVs to reach a larger customer base and may impede the consequential targets.

Future is Electric

It’s indubitable that EVs are the future and the unrivalled option as of now for tackling air pollution and rendering a safe and healthy environment for our posterity. Although there are indirect emissions involved in their manufacturing, sufficient enough to harm the environment initially, their on-road carbon discharge is nought. After taking into account multiple dimensions of the EV utopia, a certain conclusion in favour of the same can be formed. These vehicles are sustainable to the point that government enterprises and private stakeholders take care of the policies, price and process. Innovation should be encouraged so that more efficient substitutes of this technology can be conceived, experimented with and applied for a better treatment of our suffering nature.





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