The question of “Are cars fully green?” has been asked many times, over and over again. With the new models of fuel-efficient hybrids and hi-tech electric cars coming out in a rapid pace, it is noticeable that the carbon footprint and CO2 emissions that accompany the vehicle production is something that most car manufacturers are taking seriously.
Old Car vs New Car
Many environmentally-conscious motorists face this dilemma daily, weighing the pros and cons of exchanging their current car for an electric one. At first glance it might be tempting to say that the best choice would be to get a hybrid car, or even preferably a fully electric one.
However, it depends. If your old car is a gas-guzzling SUV with a perpetually thirsty V8 motor, then yes, buying an electric car might be the way to go. But first it is worth stopping for a while to examgine closely some of the production process of an electric green car.
Green Car with Lithium-Ion Batteries is Eco-Friendly?
Today’s electric and hybrid vehicles are equipped with large lithium-ion batteries. Those batteries are made with the use of rare metals, such as cobalt or nickel, which are, unfortunately most of the time, mined in a highly unethical way. Congo’s mine workers are inhumanely exploited, with children often being forced to work as much as adults. They don’t use power tools and don’t wear face masks or gloves. Deaths and injuries are not uncommon.
If this cost was not high enough, the invasive process of such mining destroys the environment in an unmeasurable way and the transport required to ship the minerals consumes large amounts of energy.
The CO2 emissions at both the mining and transfer stage exceed the C02 emissions of conventional gasoline-powered vehicles driven over a course of 40,000-miles, making electric cars less environmentally friendly than a small conventional car.
Finally, there is another concern, namely the fact that when lithium-ion batteries reach the end of their life, they are unlikely to get recycled.
Future Challenges for Car Manufacturers
Vehicle manufacturers from all over the world are doing their absolute best to design and engineer cars that will be more eco-friendly and fuel-efficient. They are pursuing the perfect balance of lightness, strength and fuel economy without compromising safety and how a car feels while driving it.
Raw components such as carbon fiber and aluminum are making cars significantly lighter, so they’ll require less fuel and materials such as bamboo and hemp fibers used for seats and interiors will cut down the use of plastic.
Some car companies including Panasonic and Samsung are also aiming to reduce and eventually eliminate cobalt from their products, so in the future batteries might be more eco-friendly and electric cars made from natural components will be the right way to go.
Manufacturers of car tyres are also doing their part, contributing to the sustainability of cars with green tyres that have lower rolling resistance. They are engineered to improve fuel economy, which ultimately reduces CO2 emissions.
Future Challenges for Auto Recycling
One of the major concerns within the automotive recycling facilities is the number and complexity of materials used in car manufacturing.
With the consumers’ growing awareness of the importance of auto recycling, the demand for cars made of recycled materials is increasing on one hand. Still, on the other, car buyers expect rapidly growing performance standards from their cars, which is a factor that may not coincide with the premise of the recycling industry.
Changes that are likely to be implemented in the future involve dismantling and fluid recovery procedures such as e.g. mercury switch removal or seat–foam recovery.
After a car will be handled by a dismantler and rid of all recyclable materials it will land in a shredder, where the ferrous pieces will be removed with magnets and sold on to steel mills. The non-ferrous metal pieces will be segregated with eddy-current separators and then reprocessed. What remains will be a mixture of plastics, elastomers, glass, and other non-metals, which is widely known as Automotive Shredder Residue (ASR) or auto fluff.
Car manufacturers have a great influence on the outcome of recycling processes as their choice of materials (like the ones mentioned above) used in the car production process determines the final outcome of ASR handling. Regulations aim to reduce the number of components used for cars and to simplify them so that the big number of end-of-life vehicles processed every year will be processed in an easier and more sustainable way.
Towards the Greener Future
An effective change will require a proper understanding of the cutting tools and cutting techniques among recyclers. Also, tool upgrades and an extensive training will be needed. Another crucial factor is legislation – if the law follows up with the new auto manufacturing technologies, certain actions ensuring proper levels of recycling will be required and car manufacturers’ policies will have to be adjusted accordingly.