Just How Green Are Electric Vehicles?

You’ve likely considered purchasing an electric vehicle (EV) for your next ride — if it’s within your budget. However, contradictory reports pop up all the time. Batteries are made from environmentally stripping mining operations. Recycling infrastructure is sparse. On the other hand, it’s better to fuel from electricity than gasoline. It’s time to hone in on the truth — how environmentally friendly are electric cars??


Battery Construction

The most contentious quality about EVs right now is their batteries. Lithium-ion permeates the market and is heavy and metal-intensive to forge. Lithium, cobalt and nickel are necessary elements for EVs, and they are easily the least eco-friendly aspect. For example, a Chevrolet Bolt with a Lithium-ion battery only makes 189 grams of carbon dioxide per mile compared to the 385 grams of a gas-powered Toyota Camry — so it can’t be all that bad.

The drawbacks of li-ion have inspired process innovations. Battery variants are in research phases to attempt to eliminate these more toxic components, such as:

  • Sodium-ion
  • Solid-state
  • Metal-air
  • Aqueous magnesium


These might sound complex, but many optimize lithium-ion’s shortcomings, like how much thermal energy runs away during use or how susceptible they are to electrical shortages. As new recipes for batteries come out of the woodwork, they have improved density, more sustainable materials and longer life spans. This makes EVs last longer and becomes greener.

Other Raw Material Emissions

Batteries are questionable, but what about the rest of the car? Extracting materials, manufacturing, transportation and the rest of the EV creation process, presently, requires producing carbon emissions. However, car makers have most of the knowledge and technology they need to make it completely Earth-friendly. The only resource they need now is time.

It’s essential to understand the transition to EVs was never going to be an immediate occurrence. Humanity has net-zero, low-waste factories to make cars, renewable energy to assemble them, and more ethical materials to construct them. Implementing each decarbonization strategy requires funding and patience. Eventually, they will culminate into the ideal setup.

In the meantime, EV makers frontload their carbon emissions when making the battery. Over the lifetime of its use, an EV ends up producing fewer emissions than an internal combustion engine (ICE). The intricate batteries are more than made up for in the rest of the car. The rest of the engine and parts are extremely streamlined compared to conventional cars, utilizing fewer resources and mechanisms in production.

Fuel Origins

Fueling an EV at a charging station feels eco-friendly, but where is that electricity coming from? Power comes from the grid the charger is connected to, which means the fuel might still have origins in coal, natural gas and oil. It varies from city to city, fueled by whatever is most plentiful from utility providers. However, the option to fill EV tanks with 100% clean energy is here in several inventive formats to alleviate climate change anxiety for the masses.

Solar canopies that provide shade over stations are available in select locations if the charger doesn’t already have integrated solar panels. These collect enough to fuel the station and more, which can go to external battery storage.

Additionally, regions powered by grid-connected wind, hydropower or other renewable sources charge their cars without touching fossil fuels. Even if not all chargers are genuinely clean, this is a necessary transitory phase to get to completely green fuel stations.

Plus, many electric vehicles that charge from solar stations could help reinforce the grid with even more sustainable energy. Vehicle-to-grid cars could make EVs more eco-friendly by putting their surplus renewable power back into the system to help others take advantage of clean resources.

Recycling Infrastructure

EVs have been around long enough to where some batteries are inching closer to the end of their life span. In fact, EV batteries are similar in composition to many found in consumer electronics like phones. These are recyclable, so seeing how larger versions are equally reusable as new products or refurbished batteries is sensible.

The most circular, zero-waste approach would be to tear dead batteries apart and recycle their parts for new EVs or additional renewable storage solutions. While this is doable, the infrastructure is not widespread enough to be common practice. Processes like pyrometallurgy and hydrometallurgy are market contenders, though they are expensive and require unique infrastructure to execute efficiently.

However, progress is happening to the point where battery recycling will amplify the sustainable reputation of EVs that much more. New legislation will require expanding recycling, encouraging companies to invest. As battery recycling becomes more efficient, costs will go down. The moment it becomes profitable for companies could happen in the next decade based on projections.

Life Cycle Analysis

How environmentally friendly electric cars are requires analyzing each facet, but they culminate into a life cycle analysis (LCA). These are valuable research initiatives because they inform makers and policymakers about the most productive enhancements for the next generation of EVs. LCAs answer how humans can make them greener.

It starts by comparing an EV with an ICE. Some studies even battle EVs against various hybrids for a more comprehensive understanding. Here are the most important statistics that prove EVs have the most eco-friendly LCA of every vehicle:

  • EVs use 86% of the battery’s power compared to 20% in ICEs.
  • EVs produce the least amount of carbon dioxide emissions compared to other types.
  • Low maintenance costs and frequency for EVs make long-term waste less of an issue.


Wondering how environmentally friendly electric cars are necessitates looking at the moment the first metal is dug from the ground until the car is recycled and turned into something new. Otherwise, judging its sustainability on one phase, such as battery-making, will skew public perceptions of how carbon-friendly the LCAs are for EVs.

How Environmentally Friendly Are Electric Cars?

EVs are necessary for transportation decarbonization — they may even be the most immediately influential. However, this doesn’t mean the sector is perfect. Researchers and industry experts are working tirelessly to uncover new solutions to an even greener EV that dissolves any fears environmental advocates may have. Just like any budding technology, it will need time to perfect. One day, humanity will have a 100% green EV.

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