The Oldest College Weekly in America. Founded 1868.

The Colgate Maroon-News

The Oldest College Weekly in America. Founded 1868.

The Colgate Maroon-News

The Oldest College Weekly in America. Founded 1868.

The Colgate Maroon-News

Electric Vehicles vs. Gasoline Cars: Is Biden’s $12 Billion Going Towards the Right Cause?

Graphic by Lauren Stewart

On Aug. 31, the Biden administration offered $12 billion in grants and loans to auto manufacturing companies to increase and expedite electric vehicle (EV) production. At first glance, one might say, “This is great; sustainability is one of the most important government focuses right now.” I feel it is essential to state that I am not here to disagree with this particular claim and other eco-friendly policies. Instead, I want to shine light onto a potential new perspective on a few of the downsides of EVs. With increased pressure on the effects humans are leaving on the environment, people are quickly looking for new alternatives to fossil fuel energy. While this urgency is generally a great uniting force, it is just as crucial that policymakers and scientific experts do not jump onto the first new viable option without examining the long-term consequences. 

As many people are aware, electric vehicles run on lithium-ion batteries. According to EV Connect, experts estimate that the EV battery will last around 200,000 miles, with an average per-charge distance of around 150-300 miles, depending on the make and model. From a quick glance, this all seems like a great substitute for the gas-guzzling cars that produce around 1.5 billion tons of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere each year (the U.S. accounts for only 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Cato Institute). However, there are extreme ecological factors that need to be considered when producing these lithium batteries. There is an extensive process of mining, extraction and processing of lithium, cobalt and nickel to manufacture these batteries, and, evidently, these can have severe ecological consequences. 8 Billion Trees, a non-profit focused on replanting trees worldwide, writes, “The truth that no one likes to admit is that production, shipment, and charging for a new electric vehicle still produces a large amount of carbon emissions.” This highlights the fact that electric vehicles are only as clean as the energy sources used to charge them.

We know that the production and disposal of batteries generates additional pollution, so if the processes involved in charging an EV generate an equal amount of fossil fuel emission, then electric vehicles are really worse for the environment in the long run. The extraction methods for lithium involve miles of lithium, cobalt, manganese, nickel and graphite mining zones. On these sites are gigantic oil-based machines that mine and harvest the minerals needed to produce lithium batteries. Lithium production uses unbelievable amounts of water — around 21 million liters daily, according to Forbes India. Approximately 2.2 million liters of water is needed to produce one ton of lithium. Not only are there high amounts of fossil fuel emissions from the mining zones, but there is also depletion of natural resources for neighboring communities. For example, a town called Toconao in northern Chile has reported decreased levels of usable household water due to the massive exploitation of these minerals

At the end of the day, it is essential to continue exploration and scientific research on new types of renewable resources, energy and ways to protect the planet for future generations. I understand the surface-level appeal that electric vehicles have. The United States and other countries are on the cusp of instituting new regulations to establish EVs as the dominant auto-vehicle transportation method in the coming years. It is essential that we not jump onto the first alternative method of fossil fuel energy and really understand the repercussions of lithium batteries.

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    Tim LaceyDec 8, 2023 at 9:18 am

    Often overlooked is the recyclability of Lithium based batteries, and an emerging industry is forming now to capture these difficult to obtain metals and use them to build entirely new batteries. Regulation could help as well, if this process could be mandated. A number of great articles exist on the web including an April 2022 article on ARSTechnica. This may allow the EV industry to get green, despite the initial round of mining lithium nickel cobalt and other metals needed to build the first rounds of massive EV batteries. Once we have enough metals to build batteries for all our EVs, the hope is that the next generations will start using recovered metals for their batteries.