Most autonomous cars are designed with as much fancy new space-age technology as can be packed in to showcase the many advances in comfort, efficiency, and technology. One feature that has made it to most autonomous vehicles is electric motors. This technology is touted to be more efficient and better for the environment than traditional, internal-combustion engines. But is it really?
Let’s take Tesla for example. Tesla is one of the first consumer-available cars to make semi-autonomous driving accessible and usable. Tesla also produces only electric vehicles, including and electric semi-truck and a electric sports car. Tesla’s flagship vehicle is the Model S. The Model S uses a half ton lithium ion battery pack filled with rare earth metals that are incredibly costly to mine. These metals are also sourced from around the world and must be shipped across the globe from places such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo and China. All this means that creating the batteries for these vehicles have a huge environmental impact. Experts estimate that it takes “113 million BTUs of energy to make a Toyota Prius. Because there are about 113,000 BTUs of energy in a gallon of gasoline, the Prius has consumed the equivalent of 1,000 gallons of gasoline before it reaches the showroom.”
This infographic is a great breakdown of the sourcing of these batteries.
The grand advantage of electric vehicles is that once on the road, the vehicles is powered by electricity as opposed to the fossil fuel gasoline or diesel. This is all well and good if the electricity is generated through green-energy methods such as wind or solar. But often, the energy is being generated through methods comparably as bad as gasoline, such as coal. This essentially nullifies the advantage of being powered by electricity over gasoline.
Then there is the problem of disposing of these batteries when the electric vehicles has reached the end of its lifetime. Tesla and other automakers have programs addressing this problem, but these batteries are hard and costly to recycle. There is a huge problem of e-waste being sent off to third-world countries to be salvaged for scraps that is not addressed in our modern materialistic society.
Electric vehicles may be advantageous in some ways, but there are definite drawbacks as well. Autonomous vehicle manufacturers should take a good hard look at what is actually best for the environment when deciding how their vehicles will be powered.