Sustainability of BEVs: Assignment 3

Subject: Environment
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Word count: 2596
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Sustainability analysis of BEVs

This section of the paper will focus on a review of the sustainability of battery electric vehicles (BEVs). The assessment will follow a cradle-to-grave approach to define the aspects of sustainability subject to the BEV as an artifact. The focus of this endeavor will be environmental and social to develop an overview of the product’s solution to oil dependency and environmental concerns.

State of knowledge

The current state of knowledge on the battery electric vehicles suggests that the innovative technology is a step towards achieving sustainability in road transport. According to Dijk, Orsato, and Kemp (2013), the electrified car engine fits into various aspects of sustainability in the transport sector. The use of BEVs provides an alternative to the use of fossil fuels for mobility. Therefore, the authors claim that the BEV technology has an integral function in the continued sustainability of the transport sector. Not only does the technology provide a lasting solution to the constraints of fossil fuels, but it also adheres to ecological concerns such as global warming and climate change. Muneer et al., (2015) claim that the BEV releases low levels of carbon emissions thereby making them efficient for urban mobility from an environmentalist perspective.

The aspect of urban mobility also has significant social ramifications. The social environment in a metropolitan area is composed of traffic jams, high fuel consumption, and high levels of carbon emissions. According to Sovacool (2010), the particulate matter resulting from the internal combustion engines result in over 9000 deaths and up to 11% of cancer cases a year. The authors further infer that the use of electric or partially electric vehicles can help to offset these public health statistics. In fact, Cooney, Hawkins, and Marriott, (2013) claim that using BEVs is a strategy aimed at reducing the levels of carcinogens and particulate matter in the interest of the public health. Therefore, the BEVs act to enhance public health in urban areas.

Key environmental issues

Indirect carbon emissions

The primary ecological issue concerning BEVs is their low levels of emissions. Unlike conventional internal combustion engines (ICEs), the BEV produces a considerably lower level of carbon emissions. On average, ICEs contribute to approximately 89-90% of carbon emissions on the road (Cooney, Hawkins & Marriott, 2013). Additionally, these vehicles account for the second most pollutant after industries. Therefore, there is a need to reduce the levels of these emissions. BEV’s operate using an electric-powered engine that produces zero emissions’ the drivetrain relies on magnetic induction, which is a zero carbon footprint. However, the most significant criticism of the use of BEVs as a low-emissions alternative to ICEs is the indirect carbon footprint. This understanding comes from the fact that BEVs are as environmental-friendly as their sources of electricity. For instance, using coal to charge BEVs defeats the point of environmental improvement and wellness. Barkenbus (2017) claims that the use of clean energy contributes to an overall picture of sustainability. However, the cleanliness of power is dependent on the location of use. For instance, values exceeding 559 gCO2 /kWh lead to significant levels of carbon emission for electrical grids. As such, countries such as China has BEVs that contribute to 711 gCO2 /kWh indicate high levels of emissions. These findings suggest that the use of BEVs can have an indirect impact on increasing emissions.

The primary approach towards minimizing the high levels of emissions and maximizing reduction is through providing clean alternatives to electrifying the grid. As established before, the zero-emission claim of BEVs is dependent on the production of electricity. As such, developing eco-friendly approaches to electricity generation (Barkenbus, 2015). Abandoning coal, which is a familiar source of power is a practical approach to maximizing environmental sustainability. Switching to hydroelectric, nuclear, solar, and other clean alternatives are the key towards validating the zero-emissions claim that has become synonymous with the BEVs.

Overutilization of Lithium and cobalt reserves

A majority of BEVs rely on cobalt and lithium in the manufacture of batteries that are essential for the storage and release of energy to the electric motor. The proliferation of BEVs has led to increased demand for the minerals contributing to growth in exploratory and mining activities to unearth the products (Manzetti & Mariasiu, 2015). The result has been environmental concerns over the excavation and depletion of the minerals. The basic understanding of ecological sustainability is to ensure responsible exploitation and extended use of a resource by future generations. Therefore, overexploitation of the mineral resources contributes substantially to reduced environmental sustainability. This information suggests a need to enhance the longevity of mineral resources.

One approach to minimizing the negative implications of exploitation of lithium and cobalt is recycling. The batteries used in the vehicles should be recyclable to relieve the stress placed on the currently available resources. Recycling of the cells will prevent disposal of toxic materials such as lead, cobalt, and lithium (Manzetti & Mariasiu, 2015). The process will also prevent overexploitation of the resources, thereby ensuring their longevity and availability to future generations. After all, the point of using BEVs is to provide a suitable environment for the future.

Key social issues

Social acceptance of BEVs

Social acceptance of BEVs is a significant issue affecting their sustainability as possible alternatives to fossil fuels. In fact, a reluctance to accept the innovative technology presents the most significant challenge towards its successful implementation around the world (Ziefle, Beul-Leusmann, Kasugai & Schwalm, 2014). This reluctance arises from numerous factors that undermine the acceptance of the technology. Years of conditioning has led to a widely accepted misbelief that ICEs are more reliable and comfortable compared to the BEVs. These superstitions arise from the ill-perceived drawbacks of these cars due to the absence of adequate information about the effectiveness of BEVs. Such perception has contributed to the 0.1% -1% use of BEVs in public roads (Heinicke & Wagenhaus, 2015). The lack of social acceptance is a significant milestone that can determine the rate of adoption of the technology in the next ten or twenty years to come. It also raises concern over the sustainability of BEVs in the same period. However, it is possible to encourage acceptance through numerous alternatives.

Education is perhaps the most significant approach to improving social acceptance. As established before, the reluctance to purchase and use BEVs is rooted in misconceptions about the technology. Educating people on how to use the vehicles as well as their economic and environmental benefits can help to change the perceptions (Ziefle, Beul-Leusmann, Kasugai & Schwalm, 2014). Governments and environmental interest groups have the responsibility of disseminating this information to the members of the public. Community outreach, advertising, and increasing access to relevant publications will help to inform the public. Education aims to present BEVs in a positive light to increase their appeal to the audience. By doing so, people will have the relevant information to dispose of their misconceptions and embrace BEVs as an innovative technology for sustainable mobility (Ziefle, Beul-Leusmann, Kasugai & Schwalm, 2014). The improved social acceptance will result in the increased use of the vehicles and continuous production. Furthermore, government incentives are vital in promoting acceptance of these cars. Unlike ICEs, BEVs are expensive to purchase. As such, governments can use incentives such as free charging, tax write-offs, and free public parking to motivate people to buy the BEVs.

Road accidents

BEVs have been postulated as a hazard for road users due to low noise. This social aspect of the BEVs is linked to public health and road safety. ICEs are loud due to the engine noises. However, BEVs use an electric motor that produces minimal sound. In fact, tire-noise is the most apparent aspect of the vehicle (Brand, Petri, Haas, Krettek & Haasper, 2013). Despite the benefits of reduced urban noises, these cars pose a danger to other road users, particularly pedestrians and cyclists. Vulnerable populations such as the wholly or partially blind may encounter challenges in identifying traffic risks and avoiding them.  These groups of people have been conditioned to recognize vehicles through their noise in urban areas. As such, the absence of this sound can lead to lack of awareness when using the road, which can lead to an accident and injury. As the number of electric cars increases on public roads, so will the risk of accidents due to the low noise levels.

Including a noise generator is a valid response to this issue. Since vulnerable populations are conditioned to respond to noise on public roads, a sound generator takes advantage of this conditioning to increase awareness in traffic (Brand, Petri, Haas, Krettek & Haasper, 2013). Sound generators mimic the sound of ICE vehicles, thereby providing an identifiable warning sound for populations at risk of road accidents.

Sustainability benefits and risks of adopting BEV Technology

State of knowledge

BEVs are practical tools for urban mobility. BEVs provide much-needed relief from carbon-based fuels by providing a sustainable and efficient alternative to the ICE. The BEV engines have also contributed substantially to reducing emissions especially in countries where their rate of adoption is high. Countries like Norway have managed cut down emissions from the transport sector significantly due to the popularization of BEVs (Nichols, Kockelman & Reiter, 2015). In addition to the environmental benefits, the use of BEVs provides social services pertaining to public health. The reduction of carbon emissions and particulate matter reduces the occurrences of respiratory, cancer, and cardiovascular diseases. This benefit is most impactful in urban centers that have high levels of pollution as well as huge populations. Finally, the use of BEVs provides advantages by promoting environmental awareness.  An evaluation of the benefits and risks of using BEVs will help to identify the sustainability effects associated with the technology.

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Environmental effects

Low emissions

The primary benefit of BEVs is reduced emissions. Electric cars have minimal emissions due to the use of an electric motor to initiate motion. Despite many concerns about the indirect carbon footprint of these vehicles, they provide the cleanest form of transportation to date. This inference arises from an assessment of the emissions evidenced by the use of BEVs. Information presented by Nichols, Kockelman, and Reiter (2015) suggests that the emissions from BEVs are significantly lower compared to those of ICEs. The figures given show that under renewable energy emissions indicate CO2 levels of 78 while those of gas passenger cars stands at 394. However, under coal-produced energy, the BEVs have substantial CO2 levels of 71. As such, it is clear that the use of electric vehicles plays a significant role in minimizing carbon emissions from public roads if the BEVs use renewable energy or a combination of both.

This understanding places significance on the indirect emissions of the vehicle. In doing so, the technology establishes a risk that could affect the society negatively. The use of coal to power the grid is counterintuitive to the goal of the BEV, which is to cut emissions. Nevertheless, the BEVs have low carbon footprint on average leading to improved air quality as well as offsetting the global warming trajectory.

Crude oil demand

The increased use of BEVs is poised to disrupt demand for crude oil and carbon-based fuel. In fact, estimates show that at a rate of 10% adoption in the next 15 years, crude oil demand will fall by 25% (Unger, 2015). These figures prove that the BEV technology will help reduce the current dependence on fossil fuels for transport. However, the present rate of oil dependence is projected to grow due to changes in populations as well as developmental impacts of emerging nations. Nonetheless, the expected growth in the degree of adoption for the BEVs in the next 15 years stands at 10 percent (Unger, 2015). This figure indicates that a significant proportion of vehicles on public roads will rely solely on battery power for mobility.

Therefore, a combination of the rate of adoption identifies opportunities in reducing oil dependency. Despite these expectations, the acceptance of the technology will be the primary determinant of the level of oil dependency in 2030 (Unger, 2015). The simulated scenario presents a benefit to the planet since it inadvertently increases the longevity of existing crude oil reserves. In that sense, the sustainability developed from switching to BEVs will have a positive impact on the availability of crude oil for future generations.

Social effects

Environmental awareness is a vital effect of the adoption of electric cars. Early adopters of the technology are already using the BEVs on public roads. A significant characteristic of these individuals is environmental awareness. As described before, the primary reason for purchasing an electric car is an increased awareness of the environment as well as a propensity to improve the current condition. In doing so, the drivers are equipped with knowledge on the value of the vehicles (Noppers, Keizer, Bockarjova, & Steg, 2015). They are educated individuals who appreciate environmentalism and are committed towards conservation efforts.

These early adopters pave the way for later adopters. Based on the diffusion of innovation theory, late adopters are bound to purchase a BEV if they have an understanding of the functional, environmental, and symbolic factors surrounding BEVs. As such, increasing adoption of BEVs presents an opportunity for more people to gain awareness of the technology as well as improve their knowledge on the issue (Noppers, Keizer, Bockarjova, & Steg, 2015). In doing so, the diffusion of innovation involves public education that allows people to understand and appreciate the value of the BEVs. Therefore, BEVs have increased ecological awareness among the public.

Urban mobility

Electric vehicles have had a profound impact on urban mobility. They increase the ease of movement, especially in crowded cities. Firstly, their energy efficiency makes them valuable in an urban setting that is characterized by slow-moving traffic. Conventional ICEs consume considerable amounts of fuel in traffic while only 14%-17% of this fuel is converted to energy (Hanke, Hüelsmann & Fornahl, 2014). As such, drivers of ICEs experience little utility for a unit of fuel compared to BEV users. For instance, the process of starting and stopping in traffic uses up large volumes of fuel. These cars experience resistance in initiating locomotion due to the moving parts involved. However, the efficiency and power produced in the BEV initiate motion instantaneously.

Additionally, the absence of numerous moving parts such as transmission boxes, pistons and other components in the BEVs reduce any resistance that would increase stress on the engine. Furthermore, the cold starts in ICEs consume a lot of fuel in anticipation of engine heating. However, the release of power from the BEV motor works instantaneously thereby saving on fuel and time (Heinicke & Wagenhaus, 2015). Also, the regenerative braking power in these vehicles increases their energy efficiency. Secondly, the BEVs have a limited range on a single charge, which is an advantage in urban environments. Urban mobility involves short trips that are satisfied efficiently using the efficient electric motor.

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Public health benefits

Finally, the use of electric vehicles has a public health benefit through the reduction of hazardous particulate matter. Particulate matter and toxic gases produced by cars lead to diseases that put the public’s health at risk. ICEs produce smoke, which is composed of particulate matter and gases such as SO2 and CO2 (Buekers, Van Holderbeke, Bierkens & Panis, 2014). The increasing use of electric vehicles has seemed improvement in air quality in places such as Texas (Nichols, Kockelman & Reiter, 2015). Increased air quality means that the public has access to a clean environment that promotes healthy living.

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