Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Are electronic vehicles environment friendly?

Electronic vehicles (EVs) produce no exhaust gases in operation; they are seen as the environemnt friendly alternative to traditional gas-fueled cars. While zero-local emissions is definitely a positive point, other factors contributing to the overall environmental effect of EVs are often overlooked such as the manufacture, usage and disposal of the batteries used to store the electrical energy and the power sources used to charge them. For the first time, a team of scientists from the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Testing and Research (EMPA) have made a detailed life cycle assessment to see if they really are as environmentally friendly as their manufacturers would make us believe.

The investigation shows that, if the power used to charge the battery is not derived from purely hydroelectric sources, then EVs have an environmental impact same as conventionally fueled vehicles. In other words, the environmental effect depends on the sources of power used to charge the EV. The Li-ion battery itself was actually found to have a limited effect on environment.

The study by EMPA shows that the electric car’s Li-ion battery drive is in fact only a moderate environmental burden and at most only 15 percent of the total burden can be credited to the battery that includes its manufacture, maintenance and disposal. Half of this figure, that is about 7.5 percent of the total environmental burden, occurs during the refining and production of the battery’s raw materials, copper and aluminum. The production of the lithium, on the other hand, is accountable for only 2.3 per cent of the total.

The EMPA team concluded that a petrol-engined car must consume between three and four liters per 100km in order to be as environmentally friendly as the electric car studied which is powered with Li-ion batteries and charged with usual European electricity mix.

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