Fossil fuels have long been primary contributors to global warming and environmental destruction since the industrial revolution. One of the largest consumers of fossil fuels remains the automobile industry, with drivers releasing a whopping 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide into the air per vehicle annually. Metrics like this are what have demanded for the bold innovation of new types of vehicles that rely on more sustainable energy sources. Electric vehicles (EV) represent a step in this direction, with companies like Tesla and Rivian leading the pack in the introduction of EVs onto the road.
EVs are cars that rely on electricity to power their motors. They work by using electrical energy to spin similarly polarized magnets contained inside their electric motors, which works to subsequently rotate wheel axes and push the car forward. Electricity is stored in large lithium-ion batteries located at the bottom of the vehicle. These batteries are rechargeable, allowing for energy refueling through charging stations that effectively replace traditional gas pumps for these vehicles. It is estimated that EVs generate one-third of the amount of CO2 compared to gasoline vehicles even when considering electricity emissions, which – given mass adoption – represents a sizable impact on global greenhouse gas emissions.
Although the benefits of EVs are tangible and appealing, a gasless future does not come without its challenges. For widespread adoption to occur, first there must be appropriate infrastructure in place for the charging of EVs, as well as sufficient electrical grid output to accommodate for increased energy consumption. Many consumers point towards anxiety over running out of electricity on the road or the inability to find a charging station as primary deterrents towards purchasing an EV. Issues with battery fires have also plagued EVs throughout their history. Fires from lithium-ion batteries, which can sometimes occur spontaneously and are notorious for being difficult to extinguish, have required recalls of thousands of vehicles over the years. Additionally, an increase in demand for EVs would necessitate upscaling the manufacturing of EV-specific parts and batteries, which may be difficult with predicted reagent shortages in the future. Lithium-ion batteries, for example, require lithium and cobalt as main constituents. These products are mined in energy-intensive or worker-endangering conditions, neither of which are sustainable with an increase in production.
However, efforts are currently underway to account for each of these issues. More charging stations, although expensive at up to $35,000 a pop, are being setup around the world and are being paid for or subsidized by companies and governments. Charging times are getting faster with improved technology and charging fees are slowly getting standardized. Researchers are finding new ways to extract lithium, cobalt, and other important battery constituents that are more efficient and less hazardous. Solid-state batteries are being developed that reduce the carbon footprint of battery production and decrease the chances of battery fires compared to current liquid lithium-ion models. Furthermore, some legislations are pushing for the cessation of gas-powered car sales in the next 15 years, providing incentive for automobile manufacturers to get onboard the zero-emission train.
Despite these efforts, the zero-emission dream seems distant. Most vehicles on the road remain gas-powered and EVs themselves still generate a carbon footprint from battery manufacturing and electricity emissions. However, progress is being made with society finding itself in a transition phase in dealing with automobile emissions. The availability of public transit and hybrid vehicles, which use both electricity and traditional gas fuel in an efficient, lower emission manner, has eased the transition for some consumers looking to go greener. All these efforts together point towards a cleaner and emission-less future, which is looking more and more achi-EV-able with time.
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