• Question: Do you think electric cars are really helping our climate?

    Asked by Jessica207 on 7 May 2020.
    • Photo: Aruna Chandrasekar

      Aruna Chandrasekar answered on 7 May 2020:

      As of now, the on-spot pollution of electrical cars is zero. That is to say, that when we turn on the engine of a car, there is no pollution from the car, as it purely runs on electricity.
      However, the idea of Electrical cars is that, in future, we will have an electricity system that is dominated by renewables such as wind and solar. Since electricity is easily decarbonized, in future electric vehicles will be the low-carbon option for domestic transportation.

    • Photo: Mark Kennedy

      Mark Kennedy answered on 7 May 2020:

      The one thing we need to keep in mind when discussing electric cars are the rare Earth elements that are needed to create their batteries. For example, the price of palladium has sky rocketed in recent years, as it used in the batteries for Tesla cars. This means we need to mine more of it, which has it’s own environmental cost. So while electric cars are doing an amazing job for reducing emissions directly from cars, there is still an environmental cost associated with them.

      The best solution for our climate is to make all cars electric, but also have less cars in total.

    • Photo: Ollie Otter

      Ollie Otter answered on 7 May 2020:

      Yes, they do.
      Building electric cars will cause some greenhouse gas emissions but in the long term the emissions will be a lot less compared to diesel and petrol cars, even if the electricity to charge the batteries comes from coal power.
      Fortunately, a lot of the electricity in Ireland now comes from wind and solar power, renewable energy generation is still growing, so the emissions will get even less with electric cars.
      Besides greenhouse gas emissions, diesel and petrol cars also emit other harmful substances such as NOx and SOx, which are not only harmful for the environment but also for our health. Electric cars don’t have that problem so that is another one of their benefits.
      Unfortunately, I can’t afford an electric car yet, but as soon as their prices come down I will definitely buy one!

    • Photo: Anthony Newell

      Anthony Newell answered on 7 May 2020:

      Electric cars can help reduce climate change by using batteries instead of petrol and diesel to power their engines. How we make the electricity to charge the batteries is very important. In many countries, they still use lots of fossil fuel sources like petrol and diesel to make electricity, whereas others use cleaner sources like wind and solar cells. If we use mainly fossil fuels to make our electricity then the electric cars charged with it won’t be much better than petrol and diesel cars. If we use cleaner sources then the electric cars will be much better and help reduce climate change. We are increasing our cleaner sources for making electricity so, in the future, electric cars will become even better for helping our climate than petrol and diesel cars.

    • Photo: Aisling Ryan

      Aisling Ryan answered on 7 May 2020:

      This is a great question, and I’m not going to lie I had to do a bit of research about this myself to make sure I was getting my facts right!
      Have you heard of greenhouse gases? There are a few different types and their job is to keep our planet warm. These greenhouse gases live high up in the sky and protect Earth from the sun as well as keep Earth nice and warm so that everything that lives there (like us!) is comfortable. The problem we are experiencing with climate change is that there are way more greenhouse gases up in the sky than we need, which is contributing to an increase in Earth’s temperature!
      Cars that use petrol or diesel (fossil fuels) produce greenhouse gases, which contributes to the build-up, whereas electrical cars don’t release any greenhouse gases and so will not be actively contributing to this climate change problem. Although fuel cars are a factor in climate change, there are many other contributors and many other ways to help reduce the amount of greenhouse gases. Some other ways of helping the climate includes growing lots of forests! Carbon dioxide is one of the greenhouse gases and trees will eat up carbon dioxide and in turn release oxygen, which will help us breathe.
      So, the short answer to your question is yes, electric cars do help climate change, but there are many other things that will also help- what we want to do is reduce the amount of greenhouse gases being released and try and use up any greenhouse gases so that they don’t get trapped up in the sky!

    • Photo: Tommy Hayden

      Tommy Hayden answered on 7 May 2020:

      It’s definitely true to say that internal combustion engines (petrol and diesel) do a lot of harm to the environment. If we do want to protect the environment it’s critical that we reduce our reliance on these fuels. Electric cars definitely have a lot less emissions associated with driving (even if electricity is not coming from perfectly green sources)
      I’m not sure how batteries are disposed of at the end of their life and that could potentially be very damaging to the environment if not done responsibly
      My opinion is that overall electric cars are likely to be a lot less damaging to our environment than petrol/diesel cars but I’d agree with Mark, less cars is probably a better solution from an environmental perspective
      With that said (at risk of being a hypocrite) I don’t think I could give up my car. I hope my next one is electric

    • Photo: Rory Ward

      Rory Ward answered on 7 May 2020:

      Electric cars have their upsides and downsides. They don’t make as much emissions as petrol or diesel cars but they are made of elements that are hard to get.
      They are a step in the right direction but I don’t think that they are the whole solution.

    • Photo: Lea Duran

      Lea Duran answered on 7 May 2020:

      Unfortunately, I don’t think so.
      Right now, building an electric car has a huge environmental impact and almost twice the energy needed to build any other car (120000Mj versus 70000MJ). Most of the time this energy is obtained with fossil fuel, so that means an electric car must be driven for 160 000 km in average before it starts to become more interesting in terms of C02 emissions.
      Then you need to make sure the electricity used during the use of the car is renewable, or else there are still hidden C02 emissions to produce that electricity in the first place.
      Aside from the C02 budget, there are also environmental and social costs in extracting the different elements necessary for the batteries, like lithium, cobalt etc. The extraction and processing of those resources are damaging, they pollute water resources, air, and eventually have an impact on the workers and people leaving in those areas (leukemia for example). In some mines, there are still children working to extract those rare earth…

      The idea of having to create a 2 tons vehicle to transport only one or a few persons is not optimized at tall, so I think common carriers are the solution, along with reduce commute (working close to home, supplies close to home, and remote working).

    • Photo: Katherine Benson

      Katherine Benson answered on 12 May 2020:

      This isn’t straight-forward, but overall yes I think they can help our climate. As some other scientists have already highlighted, some of the materials used to make electric cars are not the best for our planet, but if we focus on reducing the numbers of cars on our roads, and ensuring that the ones that are left are electric, that should help our climate.

    • Photo: Jun Lin

      Jun Lin answered on 16 May 2020:

      Electric cars themselves don’t pollute our environment. However, electricity is mainly generated by processes that are causing pollution, e.g. burning coals. This is why renewable energy (sun, wind) should be used to generate electricity. A project I’m working on is developing a stable and high efficient device called “photoelectrochemical cell” to generate hydrogen and oxygen under sunlight, which can then be transformed into electricity using a fuel cell.