The problem with battery electric vehicles

Source: The post is based on the article “The problem with battery electric vehicles” published in “Indian Express” on 10th July 2023.

Syllabus: GS 3 – Science and Technology- developments and their applications and effects in everyday life. & Environmental pollution.

News: Rowan Atkinson, known for his love of cars, expressed his skepticism about the push for electric vehicles (EVs). In a Guardian article, he raised concerns about the environmental impact of manufacturing EVs and the state support for them. He believes this focus on EVs could be problematic if replicated in India.

What are EVs?

Electric Vehicles (EVs) are vehicles that are powered by electricity, instead of traditional fuel sources like gasoline or diesel. They utilize an electric motor for propulsion, and the electricity that powers them is stored in rechargeable batteries. There are several types of EVs, including: Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs), Hybrid Electric Vehicles (HEVs), Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs), and Fuel Cell Vehicles (FCVs)

What are the Issues in promoting the adoption of Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs)?

Upfront subsidy: The effectiveness of state subsidies for BEVs is debated. While they have worked in some markets like Norway, the U.S, and China, they primarily benefit middle and upper-middle classes, who are the typical buyers of BEVs.

Charging network: According to World Bank, Charging infrastructure plays a critical role in EV adoption. India currently has a limited number of public charging stations, making it difficult for BEV owners to find convenient charging options. For instances, as of mid-2022, India has only about 2,000 public charging stations, despite having over a million EVs.

Electricity source: In many countries, electricity for EVs is generated from renewable sources, like, Norway has 99% hydroelectric power. In India, most electricity is still generated from coal-fired thermal plants. Therefore, while BEVs may reduce emissions in cities, they still contribute to pollution at the power generation stage.

Value chain: India relies heavily on imports for the lithium required to produce Li-ion batteries for BEVs. This dependency presents supply chain risks and could impact the country’s ability to meet growing demand for BEVs. For example, demand for Li-ion batteries from India is projected to grow at a CAGR of more than 30% by volume up to 2030.

Note: More than 90% of the global Li production is concentrated in Chile, Argentina, and Bolivia alongside Australia and China, and other key inputs such as cobalt and nickel are mined in the Congo and Indonesia

Variety of technologies: There are other efficient vehicle technologies available apart from BEVs. Focusing too heavily on one technology might limit innovation and the potential benefits from other promising technologies.

What are the new technologies that would be helpful in the push for battery electric vehicles (BEVs)?

Hybrid vehicles: Hybrid technology, which combines an internal combustion engine (ICE) with an electric powertrain, can improve fuel efficiency and doesn’t require extensive charging infrastructure like BEVs. However, they still use Li-ion batteries, and their efficiency can drop when using air conditioning, which is often needed in India.

Ethanol and Flex Fuels: Flex fuel vehicles can run on more than one type of fuel, or a mixture of fuels like petrol and ethanol. This technology is currently under commercial deployment in countries like Brazil, Canada, and the US.

Hydrogen Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles (FCEVs) and Hydrogen ICE: Read here

Synthetic fuels: Porsche is developing a synthetic fuel made from carbon dioxide and hydrogen using renewable energy. This approach could extend the lifespan of ICE cars while making them virtually CO2-neutral. The fuel production is being tested in Chile. From 2026, Formula One will also use synthetic fuel.

What should be done?

To facilitate the transition to EVs, governments must focus on fair subsidy distribution, investing in charging infrastructure, and promoting local battery production. Researching alternative technologies, implementing robust policies, and raising public awareness are crucial. Intermediate technologies can bridge the gap, ensuring safety standards are met, while government and automaker partnerships can incentivize wider EV adoption.

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