Are electric vehicles really “new energy”?
Are electric vehicles really “new energy”?
The past and present of electric vehicles
The world’s first electric car was born in 1834, but it was a car that couldn’t be charged. In 1859, the lead-acid battery came out, followed by the late 19th century to 1920 was a peak in the development of electric vehicles. But then because a lot of oil was extracted and the technology of the internal combustion engine improved, and because of the backward battery technology at the time, the electric car gradually lost its status after 1920. The development of electric vehicles has been stagnant for more than half a century since then. As oil resources continue to flow to the market, people almost forget that electric vehicles exist.
Due to the decreasing oil resources and the pollution of the atmospheric environment, people are paying more attention to electric vehicles. Beginning in the 1990s, with the development of battery technology and concerns about the rising reserves of mineral energy and oil prices, major automobile manufacturers began to try in the field of new energy vehicles. In addition to the attempts of traditional automobile manufacturing enterprises, there are also attempts by newly established automobile manufacturing enterprises. For example, Tesla, which was newly established in the United States in 2003, and BYD Motor Company, which was newly established in mainland China, both mainly produce pure electric vehicles. Since the 2020s, some countries or regions have initially planned to ban the sale of fuel vehicles in the next ten years (most of the scheduled ban dates are in 2030-2040), and go in the direction of developing electric vehicles. “Moreover, some countries around the world have begun to draw up timetables for the withdrawal of traditional fuel vehicles from the market (i.e., plans to ban the sales of TFVs), ranging from 2025 to 2050, which will accelerate the transition from TFVs to NEVs and exert a complex and significant impact on the energy, environment, and related industries”(Yan & Sun, 2021).
This is what happens to most people, probably including you who are reading the article. Why do people choose electric cars? Many people choose new energy vehicles for energy saving and environmental protection, cheap electricity, and new energy does not restrict travel (China’s regional policy). The most important component of an electric vehicle is the battery. At present, the mainstream batteries used in electric vehicles are lithium iron phosphate batteries and ternary lithium batteries. The ternary lithium battery has won the favor of countless car companies with its ultra-high energy density, powerful output power, and super low-temperature performance; lithium iron phosphate battery is relatively low in cost, good in safety, good in cycle life, and stable at high temperatures. It’s also good, but the process performance is poor and the energy density is not ideal. Each potential buyer chooses the electric vehicle he needs based on these two options.
New energy vehicles are green, but are batteries green too?
I always have this question in my mind, where is the environmental protection of electric vehicles? I spent a lot of time researching the whole chain. The most obvious is the battery issue. When an electric vehicle is used for more than 6 years, the battery will decay significantly. When you buy a new energy vehicle with a battery life of 500 kilometers, but due to battery reasons, the battery life gradually decays to 200 kilometers, or even at a discount. How will the car be disposed of, scrapped? Fortunately, some companies have introduced battery replacement services, so that the car will not be completely scrapped. But what to do with old batteries? They all contain heavy metals such as mercury, manganese, cadmium, lead, and zinc. If they are not handled properly, the heavy metals in them will gradually seep into water and soil, causing pollution. “The lead recycling rate for batteries is estimated to be 95% in Europe and the USA and can be considered as the highest recycling rate for metals. But these numbers do not include potential export of cars with lead batteries in Third-World countries (with highly inefficient and contaminating lead acid battery recycling) which reduce the recovery rate noteworthy. In contrast, 50% can be considered as a relatively low recovery rate for many metals. However, for lithium in traction batteries it would already be a great challenge to reach a 50% recovery rate. At present, lithium ends up in the slag of the pyrometallurgical recycling process of batteries and no noteworthy recovery takes place, mainly due to economic reasons” (Weil et al., 2018). Shockingly, according to Bjorn Lomborg, author of “The Skeptical Environmentalist” and “Cool it”, a Tesla Model S car will effectively emit around 13 tonnes of CO2 in the form of electricity over its 150,000km lifetime . In addition, 14 tons are produced for the production of batteries, and another 7 tons are produced for the rest of the production and dismantling process. 37 tons in total. An article by Lomborg in London’s Daily Telegraph compares it to a similarly performing diesel version of the Audi A7 Sportback, which emits 35 tonnes of CO2 over its lifetime. Is it just the battery? No, where does the electricity used by electric cars come from? Hydropower, wind power, or solar power? According to my research, most of the electricity used by electric vehicles still comes from thermal and nuclear power. Obviously thermal power and nuclear power are not environmentally friendly, and the environmental protection of new energy vehicles just leaves the pollution to power plants. “To cooperate with the development of EVs, China has formulated relevant energy development plans to better ease the pressure on energy and environment. According to China’s power development planning, the proportion of coal-based thermal power generation is expected to drop to about 60% in 2030 and 50% in 2050”(Yan & Sun, 2021). I believe most readers already understand the current state of electric vehicles.
Are “New Energy” Vehicles Really New Energy?
After we discussed the battery problem of new energy vehicles, let’s think about why electric vehicles have begun to rise again. I’m sure many of you have heard of the concept of carbon neutrality. When carbon neutrality became a hot topic, electric vehicles were pushed to the top. A Chinese joint venture, GM-Wuling, earns carbon credits by producing a large number of Wuling MINIs, which are then sold to other companies that need carbon credits. Tesla also does the same, and their profits from carbon credits are no less than the production of new energy car. “Currently, two types of markets are in existence for carbon trading; the compliance market and the voluntary market. Compliance market deals with the mandatory emission reductions imposed by regulations and is driven by the demand for allowances and offsets from regulated GHG emitters. The European Union and other developed countries like Canada and South Korea have Emission Trading System (ETS) under the ‘cap and trade’ principle”(Sapkota & White, 2020).
It is hard not to let us imagine that new energy vehicles are the product of policies. But are new energy vehicles really not environmentally friendly? First of all, batteries do have pollution, from the manufacture of the battery to the end-of-life recycling. Or the electricity used by electric vehicles comes from thermal and nuclear power plants, which are all polluting. But in fact, the environmental protection of new energy vehicles mainly lies in “road emission reduction”, that is, transferring super-large-scale road emissions to the factory for centralized control, and quantifying pollution sources beyond human control as much as possible. This in disguise promotes sustainable development. Fuel vehicles emit gaseous waste, each vehicle is an independent and free source of pollution, it is difficult to centrally handle, relatively difficult to regulate, and the cost is relatively high. But the electricity used by all new energy vehicles is the same, and they all come from the same power plant in the same area. The battery pollution of new energy vehicles, most of which are solid wastes, can be handled centrally, can be handled in a standardized manner, and is cost-saving. In the future, the cost will gradually decrease and the pollution will gradually decrease.
Will new energy vehicles be a good choice?
After a series of questions, let’s think about whether new energy vehicles will be a good choice. The answer is, yes. From the user’s point of view, the price of new energy vehicles is still lower than that of fuel vehicles under the same configuration as fuel vehicles or even leapfrog configuration. Many new energy vehicles are equipped with relatively novel functions, such as assisted driving. At the same time, the low electricity bill greatly reduces the cost of daily use. Driving a fuel car is based on 10,000 kilometers per year, and the fuel consumption per 100 kilometers is about 8-15 liters. Then, according to the current oil price, the annual fuel cost is about 40,000-60,000 yuan. Driving a pure electric vehicle for 10,000 kilometers per year, with a full charge of less than 70 kWh and a battery life of 500 kilometers, the annual electricity bill is about 10,000 yuan. “according to the China Automotive Technology & Research Center (2020) and Ministry of Industry and Information Technology of China (2021), the average fuel economy of an EV is 17.3 kWh/100 km, while the gasoline consumption rate of gasoline-powered vehicles is about 7.8 L/100 km”(Yan & Sun, 2021). But it has to be admitted that the cruising range of new energy vehicles is an Achilles heel. At the same time, in the Chinese market, in order to promote the replacement of new energy vehicles, government departments have introduced a series of policy benefits, such as exemption from purchases. From a national perspective, new energy vehicles promote the development of related industrial chains and increase labor positions; the development of new energy models is laid out in advance, and a large number of thermal power plants will be replaced by clean energy in the future. In the long run, the advantages of new energy vehicles will become unparalleled along with the industrial upgrading of the power industry. “only when coal-fired thermal power is partially replaced by renewable energy power can EV have a lower GHG emission intensity than TFV. Specifically, in China, to realize the GHG emission reduction potential of EV, the proportion of renewable energy power generation in the power supply mix should exceed about 19%”(Yan & Sun, 2021). So the answer is, yes. It’s coming.
What needs to be done at this stage to turn electric vehicles into real new energy sources
1. We need to solve the battery problem of new energy vehicles. The disposal of batteries is a difficult problem. The scrapping standard of ordinary batteries is 20% of the remaining amount, while the scrapping standard of power batteries is 60-80%. Therefore, the so-called “waste batteries” of electric vehicles still have considerable use value in other occasions. The main solution at present is to make secondary use of these “scrapped” batteries, and then dismantle and recycle them after the secondary use. At present, the more popular direction is to use the “scrapped” lithium battery to build a power storage system for solar power and wind power. The China Automotive Technology and Research Center predicts that by 2020, the cumulative scrap of automotive power batteries in China will reach 120,000-170,000 tons. But these industrial chains cannot fully digest such a large amount. Therefore, before the new energy storage technology is formed, the government needs to channel the way of power battery recycling.
2. Completely break through technical limitations. Lithium-air batteries have already achieved phased achievements. If various car companies and academia can cooperate with each other to speed up the commercial process of lithium-air batteries, then the anxiety of new energy cruising range will be completely solved, because lithium-air batteries have more advantages than traditional lithium-ion batteries. With high energy density, its battery life can easily exceed 1000km, which has exceeded the limit of most people’s daily driving mileage. “The lithium–air battery (LAB) is envisaged as an ultimate energy storage device because of its highest theoretical specific energy among all known batteries”(Zhao et al., 2018). At the same time, it also solves the “spontaneous combustion” problem that new energy has been criticized for. Because lithium dendrites will pierce the separator inside the battery, resulting in an internal short circuit, which will cause the thermal runaway of the battery to cause combustion and explosion.
3. Another disadvantage of current new energy vehicles is “range anxiety”. For fuel vehicles, it only takes 2-5 minutes to refuel, and a cruising range of 600-1000 kilometers can be obtained. But for electric vehicles, this seems to be an intractable question, it’s like making a choice between money and environmental protection and time. However, in recent years, various car companies have launched 800V UHV platforms, which can charge new energy vehicles to 80% within 30 minutes, “The Taycan will offer an 800v fast-charging system as standard, which will be capable of charging the sedan’s battery from flat to around 250 miles of range in roughly 20 minutes”(Chatham, 2019), which is a good development direction. There are also car companies that have launched an “instant battery swap” service, setting up a battery swap station, which can replace a new battery for the car within 5 minutes, and the monthly rental fee is 800 yuan. Both of these are good development directions, and both can solve the problem of cruising range.
Chatham.(2019, Feb 26). Hybrid Cars: Electric Porsche Macan Coming in 2020 With 800V Charging. In Newstex Trade & Industry Blogs. https://www-proquest com.ezproxy.library.uq.edu.au/docview/2185902062
Sapkota, Y., & White, J. R. (2020). Carbon offset market methodologies applicable for coastal wetland restoration and conservation in the United States: A review. The Science of the Total Environment, 701, 134497–134497. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2019.134497
Weil, M., Ziemann, S., Peters, J. (2018). The Issue of Metal Resources in Li-Ion Batteries for Electric Vehicles. In: Pistoia, G., Liaw, B. (eds) Behaviour of Lithium-Ion Batteries in Electric Vehicles. Green Energy and Technology. Springer, Cham. https://doi-org.ezproxy.library.uq.edu.au/10.1007/978-3-319-69950-9_3
Yan, X., & Sun, S. (2021). Impact of electric vehicle development on China’s energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. Clean Technologies and Environmental Policy, 23(10), 2909–2925. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10098-021-02209-6
Zhao, Z., Huang, J., & Peng, Z. (2018). Achilles’ Heel of Lithium–Air Batteries: Lithium Carbonate. Angewandte Chemie (International Ed.), 57(15), 3874–3886. https://doi.org/10.1002/anie.201710156