Electric vehicles may be worse for the environment than gasoline-powered vehicles

Electric vehicles may be worse for the environment than gasoline-powered vehicles
Electric car (Image: YouTube screen grab)

Electric vehicles require enormous damage to the environment just to produce their batteries — 250 tons of mining is required for a single battery, according to Real Clear Energy. Switching to electric cars would require a radical expansion of mining across the world, and the minerals for the car batteries will be refined mainly using the coal-powered electric grid of China, the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases. Yet states are starting to mandate electric vehicles. Nine states, including California, have now decided to ban gasoline-powered cars by 2035, requiring that all cars sold be electric instead. In 2021, Virginia’s Democratic-controlled legislature passed a law adopting California standards for Virginia vehicles, so Virginia also will ban gasoline-powered cars in 2035, unless that law is repealed, as Republicans seek to do (the Republican-controlled Virginia House of Delegates voted to repeal the ban on gas-powered cars in 2023, but the Democratic-controlled Virginia state senate kept the ban in place).

Real Clear Energy describes the challenges of switching to electric vehicles (EVs):

a typical EV battery weighs about 1,000 pounds…That half-ton battery is made from a wide range of minerals including copper, nickel, aluminum, graphite, cobalt, manganese, and of course, lithium. And to get the materials to fabricate that half-ton battery requires digging up and processing some 250 tons of the earth somewhere on the planet…80%–90% of relevant minerals are mined and refined outside the U.S. and E.U. and will be for a long time regardless of subsidies. And, since China refines 50%–90% of the world’s suite of energy minerals for EVs, it’s relevant that its grid is two-thirds coal-fired—and will be for a long time.

Moreover, compared to building and fueling a gasoline-powered car for a ten year period, an electric vehicle “entails a ten-fold greater extraction and handling of materials from the earth, and far, far more acreage of land disturbed and, unfortunately, often polluted….the mines operating and planned can’t supply even a small fraction of the 400% to 7000% increase in demand for minerals that will be needed within a decade to meet the [electric vehicle mandate]. What’s relevant is that the IEA [International Energy Agency] has told us we’ll need hundreds of new mega-mines, and that it takes 10 to 16 years to find, plan and open a new mine.”

Since most of these mines will not open before 2035, the minerals needed for electric car batteries will be in increasingly short supply as 2035 approaches, causing price spikes for car batteries, which typically cost up to $20,000 in 2022. That means the price of electric vehicles, which typically cost more than gasoline-powered cars, could skyrocket. Real Clear Energy’s conclusions are echoed by The Guardian, which notes that a “transition to electric vehicles” in the U.S. “could require three times as much lithium as is currently produced for the entire global market, causing needless water shortages…and ecosystem destruction.”

It is sometimes claimed that electric vehicles result in less emissions of greenhouse gases than gasoline-powered cars. But this claim is based mostly on flawed studies that assume electric car batteries are smaller than they in fact are, radically understating their environmental footprint and the greenhouse gases emitted to produce them.

As Real Clear Energy explains, “nearly all studies making emissions claims are worse than guesses,” typically cherrypicking “low numbers” for battery size:

A meta-study of 50 different technical studies found the estimates of emissions varied by over 300%. And, worse, that analysis exposed the fact that most emissions claims were based on assuming use of a small 30 kWh battery. That’s one-third the size of batteries actually used in most EVs. Triple the battery size and you triple the upstream emissions – and you triple the demand and thus price-pressure for the minerals.

A “net increase in global emissions” could easily result from the transition to electric vehicles, it says. That is because the mining needed for car batteries would not only expand massively, but require mining low-grade ores that require enormous amounts of energy and greenhouse gas emissions to dig up and process:

Geologists have long documented that ore grades have been and will continue declining. That’s because global ore grades are declining – for the non-cognoscenti, that means for each new ton of mineral there’s a steady and unavoidable increase in the quantity of rock dug up and processed. A decrease of just 0.4% in copper ore grade will require seven times more energy to access the copper.

If a significant fraction of motorists switch to electric vehicles, that could strain the power grid. CNBC says that when “half of all new cars sold in the U.S.” are electric vehicles, that may “put a major strain on our nation’s electric grid, an aging system built for a world that runs on fossil fuels.”

In states like California and Virginia, all new cars sold in 2035 will be electric vehicles, posing an even greater risk of straining the electric grid. As Real Clear Energy points out, the infrastructure needed for “EV fueling stations is greater than it is for” gas stations. Because EV charging takes longer than filling a gas tank, “long refueling times will translate into long lines at EV fueling stations as well as the need for five to 10 times more charging ports than fuel pumps.” Moreover, EV fueling stations will have “staggering requirements for grid infrastructure upgrades. Today roadside fuel stations have the electric demand of a 7-Eleven; but convert those to EV fueling station and every one of them will have the electric demand of a steel mill – and highways will need thousands of them.”

Electric vehicles will also place a strain on transportation infrastructure. They are much heavier than gasoline-powered vehicles. As Axlewise explains, “The average EV battery weighs about 1,000 pounds. Some batteries weigh more than 2,000 pounds. The heaviest EV battery is the Hummer EV battery, which weighs around 2,923 pounds.” One study found that electric vehicles place more than twice as much stress on roads as gas-powered vehicles. That means more cracks in the pavement.

A convoy of electric trucks could cause a bridge to collapse, even if it could handle being packed with gas-powered trucks.  This May, the Telegraph reported that the “sheer weight of electric vehicles could sink” some bridges in England.

Hans Bader

Hans Bader

Hans Bader practices law in Washington, D.C. After studying economics and history at the University of Virginia and law at Harvard, he practiced civil-rights, international-trade, and constitutional law. He also once worked in the Education Department. Hans writes for CNSNews.com and has appeared on C-SPAN’s “Washington Journal.” Contact him at hfb138@yahoo.com


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