Environmental Impact of Hybrid and Electric Vehicles

Electric and Hybrid Vehicles: Are They Better For the Environment?

Introduction

Both electric and hybrid vehicles are marketed as “green” cars, but are they truly better for the environment? Many industries, focus groups, scientists, and administrations tested this theory since the first introduction of hybrid and electric vehicles over a decade ago. A hybrid vehicle is an automobile that contains two or more sources of power such as an internal combustion engine and an electric motor. An electric vehicle is an automobile that contains an electric motor powered by two or more batteries.

The Benefits of Green Cars on the Environment

According to National Geographic, roughly half of the air pollutants in the United States come from vehicle emissions. Greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide, contaminate not only the air, but the soil and water as well. “Eco-friendly” cars such as electric and hybrid vehicles reduce the amount of greenhouse gases into the environment. According to the United States Energy Information Administration, the average mileage for a hybrid vehicle is 38.7 miles per gallon, while conventional, gas-powered cars average 26.7 miles per gallon. Additionally, electric cars favor the environment because these vehicles produce less toxic emissions over the course of their life-cycle.

The Negative Effects of Green Cars on the Environment

While the output of greenhouse gasses is significantly less in hybrid and electric vehicles, the production of both types of cars has a negative effect on the environment, especially their batteries. Both hybrid and electric cars have special batteries that contain metals such as lithium, copper and zinc. These metals are difficult to extract from the ground, which subsequently causes damage to the earth. Hybrid batteries contain nickel, which is more toxic than the lead-based batteries of conventional cars. These nickel-based batteries must be discarded or recycled with great care or they can cause irreparable damage. Electric batteries tend to be very heavy and in order to make them lighter, light-weight materials such as carbon and aluminum are substituted though these materials take a greater amount of energy to produce. Additionally, magnets in the motors of hybrid and electric cars are made from rare metals that are only produced by a select group of manufacturers making them extraordinarily uneconomical.

The Importance of Location

The Union of Concerned Scientists is a research group of scientists that conduct extensive analysis concerning the energy needed to run both hybrid and electric vehicles. The conclusion is location-based. According to their findings, the location where the hybrid and electronic cars recharge their batteries determines their affects on the environment. If the energy flowing through a power grid is fueled from a power plant that uses coal to produce energy than recharging a hybrid or an electric battery does not reduce the negative impact on the environment; however, if a hybrid or electric car is consuming electricity in an area fueled by natural gas than the impact on the environment is less detrimental.

Conclusion

Hybrid and electric cars take more resources and energy to produce, though once out of the manufacturing factory they produce less toxic greenhouse gases. The negative aspects of producing eco-friendly cars are currently being addressed and many experts speculate that within the next decade these issues will be resolved.