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Do electric cars really help the environment? Are they 'green'?

Are hybrid and electric vehicles batteries a Green alternative or add hazardous chemicals to our landfills?

Visiting the West-Coast Green conference in San Francisco this past week confirmed the feel-good and coolness of electric vehicles. Photo from Photo from hybridcars.comPhoto from Photo from

I would definitely be a happy camper if I win the electric bike or electric tricycle raffle!

However, like many environmentally conscience people, I am concerned with the toxicity of the batteries. The current developments of alternative batteries for the hybrid and EV industry have re-opened the environmental debate about existing battery technology. As we all try to ‘shift green’, are we compromising by moving into EVs that still utilize harmful chemicals?

In early August 2009 President Obama set a goal of 1 million plug-in hybrids on U.S. roads by 2015. The U.S. Department Of Energy (DOE) announced a $2.4 billion in grants to accelerate the manufacturing and deployment of electric vehicles, batteries, and components in the U.S., which will create tens of thousands of new jobs. Grants are allocated to American automobile manufacturers for research, production, education and training of the work force, marketing and sales, as well as battery manufacturing.

The development of battery technologies comprises manufacturing capacity, electric drive components, and the deployment of electric cars, in an effort to establish American leadership in competitive global markets.

According to environmental researchers, there are many types of batteries, where some are very toxic and others are less: lead acid or nickel cadmium batteries have a harmful impact on the environment.

As the number of hybrid and electric cars increases on American roads, the controversy expanded into two types of competing battery technologies: lithium ion vs. Ni-Mh batteries.

Lithium Ion Batteries are a rechargeable battery with a relatively long shelf life, and carry a greater charge-capacity, however it’s costly to manufacturer. Safety is also a concern, as these batteries tend to overheat and run a risk of explosion. Currently they are used in cell phone, cameras, laptops, and many portable electronic products, and also in electric cars.

Nickel-Metal hybrid (Ni-Mh) Batteries are more stable than lithium ion batteries and cost less to make. However, they have a short life span, and produce overall less power capacity. They have been used for years as the most widespread rechargeable batteries at AA, and 9V outputs.

So what is going to happen next?

If no other battery technology emerges in the next few years, the future use of Lithium ion batteries is expected to grow as production costs come down. Future advancements in recycling management will improve disposal, and the overall environmental impact will be dependent upon which materials are combined with lithium and how toxic they are.



As always, what is green and

As always, what is green and what is not is not black and white!  (or would that be green and white?).  What is the best course today might not be the best course tomorrow so it important to keep asking the questions you ask ... and ask them again and again over time. 

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