15 Ways Electric Cars Harm the Planet


Electric cars are often praised for their sustainability and environmental friendliness. However, some critics argue that they still harm the planet. While some believe electric cars are the lesser of two evils compared to traditional emission engines, others think they are just as destructive. Here are 15 ways electric cars may negatively impact our planet.

Mining Impact

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Rare earth metal extraction for EV batteries often involves strip or deep-sea mining, disrupting ecosystems and habitats. Chemicals used in the process can leach into nearby soil and water sources, contaminating them and harming local wildlife and communities. Examples of these harmful substances include lithium, cobalt, nickel, and lead.

Battery Production Emissions

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Battery production also involves using chemical compounds that emit greenhouse gases during manufacturing. For example, lithium-ion batteries release pollutants from the extraction and refining of lithium and the manufacture of cathode and anode materials. These emissions contribute to air pollution, exacerbating environmental problems.

Battery Disposal


Due to their toxic constituents, disposing of electric car batteries poses environmental risks. Poor disposal methods can lead to hazardous substances leaching into soil and water, endangering humans and wildlife. Developing effective recycling methods for batteries is crucial to minimizing these environmental issues.

Charging Infrastructure


Building charging stations requires land clearance, leading to habitat destruction and biodiversity loss. A single charging point may need approximately 100 to 200 square feet of space, including the parking area and additional infrastructure. Fast charging stations, which provide rapid charging for electric vehicles, often demand much more space due to the larger equipment and higher power requirements.

Energy Source


The sources of electricity affect the environmental impact of electric cars. In areas where electricity comes from coal or natural gas, the overall discharges associated with EVs may be higher than expected. Adopting renewable energy is essential to maximize the environmental benefits of emission-free cars.

Increased Electricity Demand

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Expanding the electric grid to support charging infrastructure may involve building new power plants. A coal-fired power plant may need 100 to 1,000 acres of land. A utility-scale solar power plant may require 5 to 10 acres per megawatt generated. Onshore wind farms need 1 to 2 acres per MW, while nuclear power plants can take up hundreds of acres.

Manufacturing Chassis and Motors


Producing electric motors and chassis requires metals like steel and aluminum. The production process is energy-intensive and can result in significant carbon emissions. Depending on the size and design, an average EV may use up to 880 to 1,320 pounds of metal for the chassis. An EV motor may also contain around 110 to 330 pounds of metal.

Tire Wear

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Tire wear from zero-emission cars contributes to microplastic pollution, which can accumulate in soil and waterways, posing risks to ecosystems and wildlife. Additionally, tire wear releases pollutants such as zinc and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) into the environment, further impacting air and water quality.

Brake Dust


Brake dust from EVs contains heavy metals like copper, zinc, iron, and aluminum that can accumulate in the environment and harm ecosystems. It also contains ultrafine particles (PM0.1) that can penetrate deep into the lungs when inhaled. These particles can exacerbate respiratory problems such as asthma and bronchitis in humans and contribute to air contamination by reducing visibility.

Increased Road Usage

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Researchers forecast that by 2030, the number of electric cars on the road will reach between 145 million and 230 million. And by 2035, some traditional car manufacturers hope to completely switch to producing only EVs. This increased adoption of electric vehicles may lead to higher levels of road congestion and the expansion of road networks, resulting in habitat destruction, fragmentation, and loss of biodiversity.

Resource Depletion


Increased demand for rare earth metals and other substances used in batteries could lead to the overexploitation of natural resources. On average, an electric car battery may contain 22 to 66 pounds of lithium. For example, a mid-sized car with a battery capacity of around 60 kilowatt-hours (kWh) might consume approximately 33 pounds of lithium. Larger battery capacities may need more.

Water Usage


Battery production requires large quantities of water for cooling. Water is also used to extract lithium from lithium-containing brines or ores. Additionally, various stages of manufacturing battery parts, such as electrode materials, electrolytes, and separators, demand vast amounts of water. This demand can strain local water sources, leading to water scarcity and competition for resources in regions already facing water stress.

Supply Chain Emissions

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The global supply chain for electric car parts involves transporting raw materials, parts, and finished products long distances. It often spans multiple regions, with components sourced from various suppliers worldwide. For example, lithium-ion battery cells may be manufactured in Asia, while motors and other components may come from Europe or North America. The result is increased emissions from shipping, logistics, and transportation. 

Infrastructure Maintenance

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Regular maintenance, repair, and replacement will become necessary as electric vehicle infrastructure ages to ensure optimal performance and safety. These activities can consume resources and energy and generate waste, contributing to environmental impacts. Moreover, inadequate facility maintenance can reduce efficiency, increase carbon footprint, and additional environmental burdens.

End-of-Life Management


Proper disposal and recycling of different electric car components at the end of their life cycle require specialized facilities and processes. However, current battery recycling rates are low, leading to concerns about the accumulation of electronic waste and potential environmental pollution. Achieving high recycling rates will require continued investment, innovation, and collaboration across the industry and with policymakers.

Written by Bruno P