The Need to ‘Green’ Electric Vehicles

Many people hold the perception that electric vehicles are greener and, in some respects, cheaper to run than their internal combustion engine diesel and gasoline counterparts.

However, the reality is far more complex than many would imagine. To gain a more accurate picture, it’s important to consider the complete lifecycle of each vehicle – from the sourcing of the materials to manufacture them and their batteries, fuels, or energy sources to their environmental and social governance impact from start to end of life. This includes how the materials used in them are recycled and reused.

Robert Camm, senior consultant, mobility at Frost and Sullivan, says: “The cost of electric vehicles has typically been higher than their internal combustion engine (ICE) equivalent. While this gap is closing there is still some way to go. As the cost is higher, drivers will expect additional functionality to support this investment, beyond just the powertrain and sustainability benefits.”

Indeed, while EVs are touted as being greener than their ICE equivalents, even The Economist explains in its 2014 article, Why electric cars aren’t always greener: “Electric cars are widely hailed as the answer to pollution on our roads but they are not always more environmentally friendly.”

Recent intentional power blackouts in California have also highlighted the vulnerability of charging supply. Blackouts can lead EV drivers stranded because they can’t operate without electricity to charge them but ICE vehicles can. Furthermore, while it’s desirable to use sustainable, green energy, in most parts of the world it isn’t enough to support the grid. Moreover, lithium and cobalt, used in most EV batteries, is mined and in the Democratic Republic of Congo cobalt mining is performed by children.

Higher cost of charging

The global cost of living crisis, which includes a higher cost of electricity to charge the vehicles, is highlighting some of the weaknesses of the sustainability and cost argument in favor of EVs. While pollution is certainly reduced from the tailpipe, the vehicles are still often charged by power stations that use fossil fuels to generate electricity.

Camm believes there is a need to increase the generation of renewables capacity and their reliability. He sees wind turbines playing a vital role but he admits that in some regions there is a high percentage of renewable energy wastage. “So, the key is not just renewable capacity but also improving the distribution and storage of renewable energy to minimize wastage with the use of battery storage at source – potentially even from second life EV batteries and the use of battery storage in a localized grid with specific battery or potentially through V2G technology.”

However, he says many articles claiming the cost of charging EVs is rising to be as close to running a gasoline car and suggests that some of them are misleading. He explains: “From my perspective this is slightly misleading, because this only refers to the cost of ‘rapid’ charging, which is the most expensive form of charging. This type of charging will only account for 10-20% of typical energy usage, be reserved for longer journeys and convenience.

“However, it does not represent the bulk of charging options for EV owners. For those with home chargers, much lower costs of charging are accessible. Even without a home charger, the cost/kWh is less than on-street charging or than slower destination chargers in car parks, etc. ZapMap says a Shell Ubitricity lamp-post type charger, for example, is 32p/kWh.”



Carbon emissions

From a carbon emissions perspective, The Times article this year Electric cars only greener than petrol after 50,000 miles because of the “…massive amount of energy consumed during the production process, according to research. Making an electric car generates elevated levels of greenhouse gas emissions, mainly because of its battery pack and other environmentally expensive materials, the research finds.”

It continues: “…the manufacture of a Volvo Polestar 2 electric car accounts for 24 tons of carbon dioxide. This compares with 14 tons from the production of a fossil fuel-powered Volvo XC40. The analysis says the gap is offset over the lifetime of the vehicle, reflecting the use of a battery over petrol or diesel.” [See also Volvo Admits BEVs Need Clean Energy Investment to be ‘Green’]

Making EVs greener

Given these issues, the question remains about how EVs can become greener, more sustainable and more ethical than their ICE equivalents. Camm points out that the manufacture of an EV’s battery pack is more energy intensive than the manufacture of an engine. However, he suggests there is a need to look beyond the powertrain for sources of sustainability by reducing CO2 emissions.

This requires the industry to invest in “process innovations in production of the vehicle, which reduce the overall CO2 and the minimizing of material waste as well as a need to reduce the number of defect parts,” he says. With respect to sustainability, he wants to see an increase in the use of recycled materials and feels there is a need to make responsible choices over new materials to improve and make recycling easier to build circularity into the lifecycle process – including into vehicle design.

“This can extend to recycled plastic in the dash and other components, and the use of recycled materials for seating,” he claims before adding that he feels there is a need to reduce or eliminate the use of leather in vehicles to reduce the CO2 emissions from the farming process. On the flipside there is a need to maximize the efficiency of EVs.

He explains why: “There is a conception that because the vehicle is using electricity, there is no need to drive efficiently. Tesla acceleration and focus on drag performance is an example of this. Other flagship EV’s boasting 300+HP in SUV guise is also inefficient. A focus on efficient EV powertrains that use minimal energy is important for ensuring the green credentials in the future. I can even imagine in the future the energy efficiency of EVs is something that could be regulated.”

The role of aerodynamics

As with all vehicles, electric or otherwise, aerodynamics can play a role in making vehicles more energy efficient. Camm thinks that automakers will continue to improve the aerodynamics of EVs and he would like to see them designing for long life and second life opportunities. These include maximizing the useful life of each EVs battery and extending the life of the vehicle, through battery monitoring, repair and refurbishment.

He adds: “The longer the life of the vehicle, and the second life of the battery, the impact of initial manufacturing effort can be minimized. However, this remains a current question: How effective will the recycling and second life process be? This is demonstrated through the current low volumes and the question: how will it work when millions of EVs are on the road?”

Consumers and sustainability

Sustainability also extends to consumers in the context of a shift in their mentality over time to want to make things last longer, rather than on discarding a vehicle they no longer want in favor of a newer model. Smartphones and fast fashion are examples of people’s wish to egotistically have an item that fits the latest trend. To be more sustainable, apart from using consumables longer and recycling them, consumers could also charge their vehicles during the day, or when there is a high amount of renewable and discharging surplus energy to either the home or to the gird whenever it is required.

Camm accepts that EVs aren’t totally green in that they are not 100% renewable. However, he highlights that they do have immediate health benefits because pollution isn’t emitted from the tailpipe. Cynics will point out though that this pollution may instead come from increased power generation with fossil fuels and it could potentially be worse.

The verdict is therefore that EVs may still be the future but they aren’t at present necessarily greener or cheaper than ICE cars in terms of their carbon impact, the mining of precious and rare metals such as lithium, and their interiors which still use plastics in the vehicle dashboards.


  1. Avatar Glenn Farrall 5th October 2022 @ 6:12 pm

    Blackouts can lead EV drivers stranded because they can’t operate without electricity to charge them but ICE vehicles can. Equally, as the UK showed, ICE’s can’t operate without petrol and diesel available in forecourts.
    Every technology has its challenges.

  2. Avatar Chris Milani 11th October 2022 @ 5:57 pm

    The manufacturing costing ratios of an ICE vehicle will continue to rise as the economies of scale diminish with ICE vehicle market share degradation. EV production creates a parallel operations cost stream.

    • TU-Editor TU-Editor 12th October 2022 @ 7:11 am

      Sadly, Chris, I agree with you as the modular approach to production and identical powertrains increases and every vehicle is almost a clone of the other. However, I believe ICE will continue as a niche product, both classic and modern (where regulation allows), for the discerning motorist.

  3. Avatar Brian Edward Stover 8th November 2022 @ 3:32 pm

    Wow! What an agenda! Blackwash EVs with a lot of half truths, misinformation and old opinions masquerading as data. I expected better from TU-Auto. Now I see you as another oil industry shill. Way to go. Tech to BS in 1 article.

    • TU-Editor TU-Editor 9th November 2022 @ 8:55 am

      This is a forum for considered debates, not mindless rants no matter how good the intention.

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