Home / News / Environmental Impacts Of Electric Cars

Environmental impacts of electric cars

28th September 2021

Environmental impacts of electric cars

As the UK moves towards a greener future in line with its 2050 carbon neutral targets, the electric car market is growing quickly. At the end of May 2021, there were nearly 300,000 pure-electric cars on UK roads, and more than 600,000 plug-in models, including plug-in hybrids (PHEVs). This number will only continue to rise in line with the government’s commitment to ban the sale of all new petrol and diesel-powered vehicles by 2030.  

Electric vehicles have received widespread praise for emitting fewer greenhouse gases and harmful pollutants than petrol or diesel cars. But how exactly does this work, and do electric cars have any adverse effects on the environment that we should bear in mind? Keep reading our detailed guide to find out. 

How do electric vehicles work?

Electric vehicles operate by plugging into a charging point, and receiving electricity from the grid. This electricity is then stored in rechargeable batteries which powers the electric motor of the vehicle – and allows the vehicle’s wheels to move. Unlike petrol and diesel vehicles, which can't use kinetic energy caused by braking, electric or hybrid cars store thermal energy from the brake pads and tyre's heat friction and reuse it to power the vehicle. Learn more about how electric vehicles work from our detailed guide. 


Advantages of electric cars for the environment


Reducing carbon dioxide emissions 

The main advantage of electric cars is that they are a much more environmentally-friendly solution to road travel. In 2020, researchers from the universities of Cambridge, Exeter and Nijmegan in The Netherlands found that in 95% of the world, driving an electric car is better for the environment than driving a gasoline-powered car. 

Petrol and diesel cars release carbon dioxide which not only creates a polluted environment for local residents, but also damaging gases that affect the Earth’s ozone layer. Since electric vehicles do not have a tailpipe, they don’t release any exhaust gases to the environment. 

To put these environmental benefits into context, in just over a year, driving an electric car can save an average of 1.5 million grams of CO2, which is the equivalent of four return flights from London to Barcelona!  


It’s easy to transition with a hybrid vehicle

If you're unsure about going fully electric, switching to a hybrid vehicle is a great way to experience the benefits of greener powered driving.  
 Hybrid electric vehicles use both a traditional combustion engine and an electric battery powered motor to produce power to the vehicle's wheels. At the touch of a button, you can switch between using your fuel engine or using your electric motor. All hybrid vehicles produce less CO2 emissions than petrol or diesel-powered cars, so you’re doing your bit to reduce your carbon output. 
Learn more about the different types of hybrid electric vehicles and how they work in our detailed guide. 


Disadvantages of electric cars for the environment


High emissions from battery production

While electric cars don't produce the tailpipe emissions of petrol or diesel cars, they are not emission-free, whereas vehicles with combustible engines have an environmental impact over a long period of time. This is as the bulk of emissions for electric cars are produced from the battery manufacturing process. 
 According to the European Environment Agency (EEA), emissions from battery electric vehicle production are generally higher than those from internal combustion engine vehicle (ICEV) production. A study suggested that CO2 emissions from electric car production are 59% higher than the level in production of traditional internal combustion engine vehicles (ICEVs). 

Battery production involves extracting Earth’s minerals

To manufacture an electric car battery, you need as many as 20 minerals, including lithium, nickel, cobalt and copper. These are all mined from the Earth, a process that emits harmful chemicals and can result in erosion, loss of biodiversity and contamination of soil, groundwater and surface water. 

Due to the cost and complexity of disassembly, the majority of electric car vehicle batteries are not recycled either. This is because they are made up of several hundred individual lithium-ion cells and contain hazardous materials. If they are dismantled incorrectly, they can explode and cause fires. Instead, many are sent to landfill, which can contaminate surrounding areas. 


Are electric vehicles better for the environment?

All the evidence suggests that electric cars are better for the environment. Their emissions are significantly lower than cars powered by fossil fuels, and they're ideal for making urban areas cleaner and quieter too. Where the challenge lies is in improving energy production techniques so that manufacturers don’t have to rely so heavily on the Earth’s natural resources. 

At Merityre, our specially trained team of experts can service, repair and maintain all kinds of electric vehicles, from plug-in electric to plug-in hybrid and hybrid electric. Use our location finder to contact your local Merityre team and learn more about making the switch to electric.