Are Electric Vehicles Really Sustainable?

Today, electric vehicles, or “EVs”, have become symbols of transportation technology’s efforts to curb climate change. Manufacturers and those who back the production of such vehicles claim that they leave a lower carbon footprint than cars with combustion engines.

But if you’re really concerned about the environment, you won’t likely take these claims at face value. You’re right to do so, as some factors are usually left on the down-low when discussing the sustainability of electric vehicles.

So, are EVs actually sustainable?

Using EVs Have Caveats

Today, you can find and use two types of electric vehicles: fully battery-operated and hybrid (with a combustion engine and a supporting battery system). When you talk about emissions when you drive these vehicles, it is a no-brainer that they emit fewer carbon emissions compared to cars running on combustion engines.

However, electric vehicles are only partially zero-carbon products. While better for the environment than gas-powered cars, EVs still contribute to carbon emissions.

Power Source

Purely electric vehicles don’t need gasoline or diesel to run, but their batteries still need a power source to be charged. This is one way EVs contribute to carbon emissions, but the rate by which they do so depends on several things.

EVs create more carbon emissions if the source of electricity used to charge them is dirty and unsustainable. For instance, if the electric grid you connect to your EV is powered by coal, your car is linked to more carbon emissions that may be significantly closer to how much combustion engines produce.

However, over the years, more communities have adopted “clean” energy grids. If you charge your EV car batteries on one of them, you produce significantly less emission than traditional cars.

A Matter of Manufacturing

When cars are produced, manufacturers source raw materials, which can negatively impact the environment. This is one of the problems presented by EVs – their batteries need metals that are complicated and dangerous to gather. They’re also difficult to extract, requiring more energy while releasing more pollutants as byproducts.

Unfortunately, it’s one issue the world needs to live with to produce new technology. The good news, however, is that EVs can offset the impact they make during manufacturing after a few years of use without emitting gas or diesel-related carbon emissions.

The End of a Battery’s Life

Another issue many raise related to an electric vehicle’s sustainability is its battery. EVs use lithium-ion batteries, while traditional cars use lead-acid batteries. In the United States, lead-acid batteries are widely recycled. Meanwhile, only 5% of lithium-ion batteries are recycled, presenting the problem of unwanted waste.

While lithium-ion batteries last a long time, if they’re not recycled, they can add pollutants to the environment.

The Good News: EVs Are Still Sustainable!

The issues above may seem concerning. However, studies still confirm that EVs are the more sustainable option compared to combustion engines.

Their lower carbon emissions manage to offset the footprint made during manufacturing. Additionally, since more and more countries worldwide have started embracing renewable energy, most EVs there also run on clean energy.

But what about the batteries? Manufacturers suggest reusing still-working lithium-ion batteries at the end of an electric car’s lifespan.

Since EVs are still relatively new, the technology to produce and innovate in that niche is still relatively scarce. As the years go on, more innovation will be made, thus optimizing the production of electric cars. As that happens, minimizing pollution and carbon issues surrounding both the manufacturing of the vehicle and disposal of the battery is no longer far-fetched.

A Matter of Technological Evolution

The technology for EVs is still young, and there’s a lot of room for improvement. As more innovation comes, there will come a time when we can confidently say that EVs are sustainable. There are only good things to for in the future of transportation technology.


Photo by Mike B (

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