Evaluating EVs

Wednesday, 15 September 2021 00:10 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

The Ceylon Motor Traders Association (CMTA) this week waded in on the Government’s proposed plans of wider adoption of electric vehicles in the country. The move, part of a sustainability initiative to reduce the country’s long-term carbon emissions, was lauded by the CMTA though the Government would do well to also pay due attention to some of the warnings and recommendations put forward by them.

With over eight million cars registered by end-2020, and a significant number of them older than 10 years and thus prone to poisonous emissions, research shows that vehicular emissions account for 60% of air pollution in the country. The move to shift to zero emission electric vehicles is thus a welcome one, and a journey that many other nations are embarking on. But the new transport age comes at a cost.

Considering Sri Lanka’s poor track record with waste disposal, now would be a prudent time to ask, how can Sri Lanka deal with the wastage of both hybrid and electric vehicles? This was one of several points put forth by the CMTA. Other recommendations included: ensuring that high voltage battery and power management systems of EVs are suitable for local climatic conditions – meaning they need to be adapted by the manufacturer for the specific country/region of use; a minimum manufacturer’s warranty on the HV batteries of at least five years for passenger vehicles and three years for two- and three-wheelers “to protect consumers from crippling expenses and to negate premature foreign exchange outflow for defective batteries and related parts replacements”; and that EV repairers should comply with globally accepted safety standards on infrastructure.

In the US, many electric car companies such as Tesla, Nissan and Toyota are linking up with other companies to reuse batteries as they can still store large amounts of power even when they are partially discharged. One option is to up-cycle batteries from electric cars to store power from wind turbines and other renewable energy plants. This would give a longer lifecycle for the batteries but still leaves the question of where they will end up unanswered. 

Companies that fail to plan for recycling face ‘brand damage’ at the very least, as well as potential fines and legal action if the batteries end up being illegally incinerated or dumped in landfills. In many cases, automakers will be responsible for final disposal of the batteries – even if they did not actually manufacture them – because of stricter laws governing recycling, especially in Europe. Sri Lanka could take this route and call on the car manufacturers to do their part. 

Car companies themselves need to focus more on this issue because measures such as standardising production could also make batteries easier to recycle. Given their sheer size, batteries cannot be stored at home and landfilling is not an option. Moreover, recycling or retrieving materials such as lithium make little economic sense and as such companies are unlikely to invest money in the effort. However, long term, unless these resources are reused in some way, the finite availability of raw materials makes these types of vehicles unsustainable. 

This is in no way a justification for the continued use of fuel guzzling conventional vehicles. But the effort to be green comes with challenges that the world is still figuring out. Being aware of the problems is one way to be part of early solutions.