If you are listening to future-minded people, electric vehicles are the key to a lot of issues. Scratch that, hydrogen fuel cell cars are where it is at. Oh, wait, that might have been biodiesel. Confused already? No wonder…
As a fan of EVs, I would be the first to admit that alternative fuel engines are not as clear-cut as people make them out to be. But while biodiesel, HFC and others remain fairly unknown, EVs are gaining quite the ground. That makes them pretty much the only viable alternative. So here comes the question – are they truly going to solve our fossil fuel dependency?
Sadly, hype and marketing have nothing to do with actual problem-solving. We need to have a critical eye for all claims, no matter our stance on the issue. This is why I decided to explore the topic of the actual viability of EVs. Hold tight, we are going deep!
How electric vehicles would supposedly help us
Before we dig further down, we need to establish the main thesis. The claims are simple – electric vehicles will help us get away from using fossil fuels. That would, in its own way, lead to a lesser environmental impact of driving a car. It would also be future-proof since fossil fuels are not renewable.
On the surface, everything sounds neat. We all know about carbon emissions, which are one of the main reasons the US regulates most of the diesel cars here. The EU is also tightening its emission standards.
Gasoline too, has a negative impact on the environment, although less than diesel. Even so when you combine thousands upon thousands of vehicles with internal combustion engines (ICE), emissions pile up. The EVs then step in with the claim that they hold all the answers.
Here are the main points of the EV arguments:
- Less pollution – EVs run on electricity, so hardly any pollution there. However, that claim is among the most seriously debated. We will examine it further in a bit.
- Much more efficient – ICE cars have terrible efficiency at around 25-50%, with an average of 35%. That means up to 75% of the fuel turns into heat, not work. On the other hand, EVs are up to 90% efficient with the average not dropping below 85%. Huge step up without a doubt. Not to mention that performance is also increased.
- Cheaper as a whole – EVs are much cheaper to fuel and are getting increasingly cheaper to buy. For instance, we can see that the premium electric SUVs are not much more expensive than ICE alternatives. Also, their maintenance costs are supposedly much lower.
- Renewable energy – The final benefit is that EVs can use renewable energy sources. They are not dependent on fossil fuels, making them an excellent tool to undergo the transition. Furthermore, this is supposedly an interest of national security. This argument got under fire recently, so we will examine it closer.
Now that we have our main points, we can start examining them. With some effort, we should be able to figure out if they stand their ground.
The undeniable EV benefits
There are EV benefits we can debate, but a few of them are pretty much rock solid. For example, you cannot really argue against their efficiency. The anti-EV crowd has tried its best to tear the electric motor’s reputation in that regard, yet they have not been successful.
The price argument is spot on as well. EVs will become cheaper along with their maintenance. Even now you would pay less for EV repairs, and you do not have to worry about parts all that much. The batteries also keep the majority of their capacity even after 10 years of use.
If we want to be reasonable, we should just concede these two points. However, we have more arguments that we can really challenge. Shall we do that?
Are EVs really environmentally friendly?
The main focus of the article has to do with the different dependency, which EVs may entail. This is why I will not go into incredible detail with the pollution issue. That being said, we still need to have a good overview, because it matters even in the dependency argument.
We all know that using electricity does not do much against the environment. After all, your phone is not pumping emissions into the atmosphere, right? The batteries in EVs use similar technology, so the same logic must follow. Well… here we get into trouble.
Anti-EV people would never argue that the electric engine causes pollution in and of itself. However, they would point out two other things:
- Initial pollution – manufacturing the batteries right now causes about 7 years’ worth of pollution coming from a gasoline engine. Considering a lot of people swap vehicles every 5 to 7 years, pollution evens out (and may even be slightly in favor of gasoline engines).
- In-use pollution – the electricity EVs use may be generated from coal so that just swaps one way to create emission for another. The logic dictates that the more people use electricity for their EVs the more plants would need to burn coal.
The EV-side rebuttal
If I have to be honest, the arguments above stunned me in the beginning. They seemed rather reasonable at first glance. Yet in a short while, I found where they leaked.
Firstly, pollution from manufacturing can be mitigated. It all depends on what kind of energy the plant uses. That can only get better as we are transitioning to cleaner sources of energy anyway. Plus, we should not forget that manufacturing traditional cars also causes pollution.
Secondly, in-use pollution follows pretty much the same logic. We need more renewable energy or other clean sources, which will make the environmental impact of EVs drastically smaller. That only points to the futureproof aspect of EVs.
Finally, people are buying fewer cars nowadays. For one reason or another, we keep our vehicles longer. EVs then make perfect sense, since not a lot of maintenance is necessary. With all that said though, none of it would matter if, in the end, we end up with another dependency. Will EVs lead us right into it?
An EV-related dependency that may be even worse
Now we get to the final problem with EVs. This one has only recently sprung up and has more to do with politics than anything else. That does not make it any less important though.
As with many other manufacturing issues, this one has to do with China. We know that China accounts for about 95% of the rare mineral production, which is required for a lot of tech. In light of the trade war that is currently going on between the US and China, some have seen this as a way to attack the EV market.
Anti-EV people claim that relying on electric vehicles will put the US into another state of dependency. Instead of counting on our current fossil fuel supply, we will have to rely on China’s rare earth minerals.
The argument goes on with the fact that the States currently has a fairly stable supply of oil. The same cannot be said for rare minerals. Logically this leads to a dependency benefiting China. Does it though?
Is the new dependency a national security issue?
Many have argued that depending on fossil fuels is an issue of national significance. EV supporters have claimed that it is better to use coal and nuclear power in order to cut the US dependency on fossil fuels from other countries.
Sadly, this argument has turned on its head now. Since the US has a lot of oil to fall back on, but not enough rare earth materials, we are in a tight spot. It may just be the case that gasoline engines are the politically better solution now. So much so that people are calling for a ban on EV subsidies and mandates. Some have gone as far as saying they should even be taxed double.
The other point also mentions that US companies make far more money producing ICE cars than EVs. Thus cutting down on EVs would supposedly allow the US car manufacturers to thrive.
Some problems with the political argument
If the argument above has shaken your belief in EVs, I would not blame you. On the surface, it looks fairly sound. Yet, it may be just a bit too over-the-top, as it turns out.
Even before we delve into the real issues, we can ask ourselves some questions. Why should we care about US car manufacturers? It is not like they are not privately owned anyway. The only reason would be national pride, but that has nothing to do with real benefits.
Plus, the proponents of the political argument have debunked themselves. Why? Because they know that the car market in the US is already dominated by foreign companies with ICE cars too. Actually, Tesla is the only US company that has any chances of turning that around. It seems to undermine the very argument for taxing EVs. Then we come to the next point…
Are the rare minerals even an issue?
To put it simply – likely not. For starters, such minerals do not necessarily come from China. Yes, they produce most of them, but there are reserves in other countries. And the main issue right now seems to be cobalt, which is not even a rare earth mineral. On top of that, 60% of it comes from Congo, not China. Nothing entails dependency at this point.
Additionally, the US can actually take steps in controlling the rare minerals’ supply chain. If that is so important to us, nothing is stopping us from doing so. That being said, we can also leave private companies to figure that out for themselves. After all, even if there is some sort of dependency, it will be in manufacturing, not in fuel. Which is a totally different issue.
To be honest, having to worry about finding production materials is preferable to health issues due to car pollution. Our fossil fuel dependency has ramifications that go well beyond the political sphere. This is something that many people do not even consider.
Do you think the political issues are currently more important?
Right now I am not convinced that we have anything to worry about on the rare minerals side. At least not at the scale that many people try to present it.
That being said, I am not blaming anyone if they think this political issue sounds more troubling than health concerns. We all know that when politics escalate we end up with the worst health outcomes. The 20th century is proof of that.
If it is up to me though, I would want more evidence against the current EV trend. So far would-be issues that may never happen do not worry me in the presence of tangible pollution problems. Am I missing something though? If you can tell me why I should be more concerned about the dependency argument, I am all ears. Maybe I can come back to this with a revised position!