Unclean at Any Speed says despite sweeping public opinion and the billions of dollars in subsidies granted to EV makers, the energy intensive materials used in manufacturing electric cars, as well as the life-cycle and disposal of the batteries, negate EV’s environmental benefits.
Author Ozzie Zehner, a visiting scholar at the University of California, Berkeley, cites investigations from the National Academies and explains that because EV batteries are so heavy, manufacturers use lightweight materials like carbon and aluminum that are highly energy intensive to produce and process. The magnets in the motors of some EVs contain rare earth metals that are supplied by very few, including China, which has been trying to restrict their export, making them uneconomical.
Zehner cites an MIT study that notes that lithium, copper and zinc used in the batteries are extracted in ways that are energy intensive and harmful to the earth. People living in regions where these compounds are extracted are at risk of exposure to toxic groundwater contamination and air pollution. Batteries can also be hazardous if not properly disposed of at the end of their life-cycle.
The comprehensive National Academies study of the environmental effects of EVs was sponsored by Congress, unlike other studies touting EVs that tend to be sponsored by automotive companies, Zehner says.
Zehner, a former EV enthusiast, says shifting from gasoline-based cars to EVs is just like changing the brand of cigarettes you smoke. He also cites investigations from the University of Tennessee and Norway that focused on the life-cycle impact of EVs and found that they perform worse or on par with gasoline-fueled cars.
He recommends shifting electric car subsidies to more robust options backed by research, including emissions testing, bicycle infrastructure, smog reduction initiatives and land-use changes.
Image Credit: Ozzie Zehner