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What Barriers Are Slowing Growth of EV's?

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Jane Marsh's picture
Editor Environment.co

Jane Marsh is the Editor-in-Chief of Environment.co. She covers topics related to climate policy, sustainability, renewable energy and more.

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  • Aug 26, 2021 3:45 pm GMT
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Since Tesla gained popularity in 2013 following its Model S release, other vehicle manufacturers entered the electric vehicle (EV) market. The eco-consumerism movement increased the demand for emission-less cars, shrinking driver's carbon footprints. Now, after Biden established the national carbon-neutrality goal, the need for a sustainable transportation system is higher than ever.

As the industry expands, researchers evaluate environmental roadblocks decreasing the sustainability of EVs. Though emission-less cars are substantially less degrading than fossil fuel-reliant versions, they still generate a carbon footprint. Before evaluating the potential solutions to ecological challenges, we must examine the barriers.

Charging Stations' Sustainability 

Nearly 80% of the U.S. energy supply derives from fossil fuels. Our national reliance on emission-producing electricity decreases the sustainability of charging stations. Environmental engineers developed solar-powered chargers, unfortunately, gas stations outnumber them.

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There are roughly 41,400 EV charging stations in America. Only 5,000 of them contain fast-charging abilities. A small portion of them connects to solar power, enhancing their reliance on emission-producing electricity.

Many consumers evaluate fossil fuel-powered electric chargers as inefficient and contradictory. When individuals power their vehicles with non-renewable energy, they take on second-hand emissions. It limits the alignment of an EV with an eco-consumer's values.

Some homes lack compatibility with EV charging, additionally limiting one's access to sustainable transportation. Limited charging accessibility may also turn individuals away from purchasing green cars. The low or absent funding of power stations also creates challenges in the industry. 

Recycling Limitations

A significant ecological challenge associated with EVs derives from their batteries. Lithium-ion batteries have a low recyclability rate, creating end-of-life pollution. Their mining processes also generate environmental justice limitations.

The majority of lithium mining occurs in the Congo and relies on 40,000 children for labor. Battery production processes expose workers to cobalt, creating health deficiencies. Children in the industry have high concentrations of heavy metals in their urine, increasing their risk of fatal complications. 

Route Compatibility

The low number of charging stations limits a driver's ability to travel effortlessly. Many individuals must plan long trips around charging accessibility. Some road and weather conditions affect the effectiveness of EV transportation.

The efficiency levels of EV batteries decrease in winter temperatures reaching below 20 degrees Fahrenheit. Older vehicles contain a low charging range, reducing the safety and accessibility of transportation in colder months. Road maintenance also affects the compatibility of EVs with specific routes.

Manufacturers install the battery along the underside of the vehicle. Obstacles on the road can damage the power source and generate transportation limitations. Regions can increase their transportation sector's compatibility with EVs by funding efficient roadside maintenance programs.

Professionals can engage in gravel reclamation, enhancing the drainage and longevity of a road. The maintenance technique prevents the accumulation of ice and pavement breakage. It, directly and indirectly, limits the amount of battery-damaging obstacles on the street, protecting EVs.

Options for Variety

The EV industry is relatively new compared to gasoline-fueled transportation technology. Auto companies continue playing catch-up, generating a more diverse market. Many manufacturers create a single EV model, decreasing a consumer's purchasing options.

Major car companies, like Ford, offer an electric car model. Some customers require a truck or van to support their career or family size. If the model a manufacturer offers is not compatible with an individual's lifestyle, they may opt for a traditional gas-powered model.

Community Willingness

The style or efficiency of current EVs on the market affects a driver's willingness to transition away from their gas-powered vehicle. A recent Consumer Reports survey discovered 71% of individuals would consider purchasing an emission-less vehicle. Many countries are working on banning fossil fuel-reliant transportation methods.

With a significant portion of consumers resisting purchases, various regions will face social challenges. Manufacturing companies can alter individuals' perceptions of EVs by improving their efficiency levels and decreasing their costs. The high price of sustainable products can turn customers away from purchases.

Increasing the Industry's Sustainability

Renewable energy professionals can support sustainable development in the transportation sector by increasing the accessibility of solar charging stations. Some builders are also decreasing the reliance on stations by installing panels on vehicles' roofs. The next phase of sustainable development may enhance the recyclability of lithium-ion batteries or generate less degrading versions.

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Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Aug 26, 2021

"Environmental engineers developed solar-powered chargers, unfortunately, gas stations outnumber them."

Jane,  electric vehicle chargers draw so much power that powering them with solar power alone isn't remotely practical.

For example: a typical Level 2 charger will draw 7,200 watts of power. To produce that much power, at noon on a sunny day, on the equator, would require 400 ft2 of solar panels - a 2o ft x 20 ft square. At 40° latitude north (center of the continental U.S.) it would require over four times that area - at noon on a sunny day. At any other time of the day, with any cloud cover, charging one car requires multiples of that.

Level 3 "quick charge" chargers, the standard for Tesla EVs, draw 50,000 watts. Now multiply by seven.

You can see that relying on hundreds of square feet of solar panels to charge one car, quickly and reliably, isn't practical. It has nothing to do with efficiency of the panels, of the charger, or the car's batteries - there just isn't enough reliable sunlight. And that will never, ever change.

"Then why do I see parking lots covered by solar panels, with charging stations underneath?", you might wonder. Those charging stations are powered by the electricity grid, with a little solar power mixed in when it's available. It's optics - designed to elect the politician who erected them, and nothing more.

Solar enthusiasts will typical enter a state of denial at this point: "Solar power must be more practical than that. It must! IT MUST!!". But isn't, and the longer we pretend that it is, the harder we will make our job of limiting the disastrous effects of climate change.

Michael Keller's picture
Michael Keller on Sep 6, 2021

Hard to justify electric cars from a practical standpoint. Limited range and high cost point to more of a novelty “feel good” purchase by the elite, as opposed to vehicle that is used day-in-and-day-out by the average citizen. 

Charles Botsford, PE's picture
Charles Botsford, PE on Sep 6, 2021

Bob, I agree with you about solar used for Level 2 and DC fast charging. It's mostly window dressing. Solar is only practical when combined with energy storage, and then it's expensive. At grid-scale, solar is more cost-effective, but still requires energy storage to boost its capacity factor.

This article has many inaccuracies. For one, the Tesla US network of DC superchargers numbers around 20,000 alone. When you add EVgo, Electrify America, EVCS, ChargePoint, Blink, and others, the US has 5-6 times the number claimed in this article. Also, the US has double the public L2 chargers and probably an order of magnitude more private L2 chargers (residential) than listed in this article. Residential (including multi-unit dwelling), workplace, and other long dwell time L2 chargers form the bedrock of EV charging because they're the cheapest and most convenient. With almost a million EV drivers in California (according to Veloz), private L2 chargers number into the hundred thousands.

This article gets lithium wrong. Lithium is solely mined in the Congo? No. Lithium is mined all over the world. Cobalt is mined in the Congo, but is being phased out by battery developers. For example, Tesla, for one of its models, is going to lithium iron phosphate, which contains zero cobalt. 

This article also gets lithium battery recyclability wrong. Lithium batteries are on the order of 95% recyclable (see NREL). However, before recycling, the bulk of EV batteries can be reused for secondary purposes, such as commercial, industrial, and grid storage (see DOE Recycling Prize).

This article gets vehicle manufacturers wrong. Vehicle manufacturers, including medium- and heavy-duty have electric versions in the works. The light-duty OEMs already offer multiple versions, with many OEMs stating that all their models will be electrified by 2030 to 2035, and that they will even discontinue gasoline-powered versions in that timeframe. Consumers, at least in the US, do not suffer a lack of variety. The Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) for an EV is now less than a comparable gasoline-powered vehicle, with projections that the initial cost will cross that line in 3-5 years. From a sustainability perspective, EVs have far less environmental impact than a gasoline-powered vehicle even on a primarily coal-fired grid. Thankfully coal is quickly dying in the US.

 

 

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