Getting to carbon-neutral or even zero will depend on more than just switching to electric. We explore how manufacturers are doing their part.
The world is shifting closer and closer towards decarbonizing transportation. California, Canada, the EU and California are all working towards achieving this goal by 2030 and consumers are excited about the change. General Motors unveiled their newest vehicle to their Hummer lineup, and this time it’s electric. According to Motor Trend, it sold out in just minutes after its reveal.
While the excitement is encouraging for the future of sustainable transportation, will the increasing weight of EV’s disrupt this progress?
Read on to discover what that means for the environment, safety and the solutions manufacturers are exploring.
A lighter vehicle produces less waste
Researchers have regularly shown that EVs are environmentally friendlier than gas-powered vehicles because of the carbon they emit (or rather, the carbon they don’t).
In 2021, the Wall Street Journal worked with researchers at the University of Toronto to examine the emissions of EVs vs. gasoline vehicles. They found that if America fails to replace gas-powered vehicles and adopt more EVs, gasoline vehicles will emit nearly 50 gigatons of cumulative greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
However, they also found that during the manufacturing process of a Tesla Model 3 (their research vehicle), the Tesla generated more emissions (64%) during the car’s production because of the metals needed for its lithium-ion battery (which is not present in a comparable, but traditionally-powered, Toyota RAV4).
In addition to this finding, researchers like Liza Selley from the University of Cambridge found that 55% of traffic pollution is made of non-exhaust particles, such as brake dust and tire wear. She continues to say that heavier cars are a major contributor.
Selley is, so to speak, helping to remove the rose-colored glasses the public has on the sustainability of electric vehicles to reveal that there is more to consider other than the carbon they emit.
Safety concerns with heavy vehicles
In addition to the pollution they induce, heavier vehicles are also more dangerous on the road when involved in a car accident. The GMC Hummer EV, for example, weighs over 9,000 pounds – three times the weight of a Honda Civic.
CNN Business writer Peter Valdes-Dapena put it best in his 2021 article when he said “It's a matter of simple physics. When two moving objects hit one another, the heavier one will tend to carry on in more or less the direction it was going.”
While EV SUVs and trucks have a longer driving range and perform better with regard to carbon emissions, they are riskier to be around on the road.
Nature, an international, peer-reviewed journal that examines science and technology, outlined solutions for how to better manage the “weight problem” of EVs, such as taxing heavier vehicles to incentivize drivers to opt for a lighter alternative.
They go on to suggest testing out smaller batteries with less energy density and removing heavier components by using more silicone in anodes rather than the typical graphite. In turn, lighter batteries could accommodate lighter frames to support them.
It’s important to note, however, that with better technology, the cost of the EV could continue to rise.
Finding a solution will require thorough research, but manufacturers like Tesla, Volvo and GM are making improvements to how they approach each obstacle, such as using battery packaging to support the vehicle’s chassis. This could eventually evolve into making the vehicle frame the solution to storing energy.
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