The path from tailpipe pollution emitting vehicles to full-electric tailpipe-less vehicles should ideally traverse through hybrid powertrains.
Evidently, the era of mass adoption of full-electric drivetrains is still a distant future which might make a strong case to incorporate hybrid powertrains into the existing mobility solutions equation. While a few countries are excessively focusing on the transformation from IC engines to electric powertrains, the reality of feasibility, affordability and charging infrastructure is hard to overlook. Hence, a detailed unbiased discussion is warranted.
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How Many EVs Are There On The Road in 2022?
Despite the number of EVs sold globally witnessing an exponential rise over the last couple of years, compared to the traditional cars in the world, it is still minuscule. Therefore, we must not get carried away after watching carmakers launch EVs after EVs every year. For context, there are over 1.45 billion total cars in the world in 2022 as per various reports. According to the Global EV Outlook Report 2022 by IEA, there are around 16.5 million EVs on the road in the first quarter of 2022. We could confidently confirm that EVs are just over 1% of all cars in the world in 2022.
Issues With Mass Adoption of EVs
Now, the list of issues with the mass adoption of EVs is rather long and extensive. If you are an automobile aficionado, you would probably already know about the challenges that the EV industry is facing. But if you are not, let us quickly take you through these.
First and foremost, the main hurdle for an inordinate amount of people is the astronomically high initial prices of EVs. To put things into perspective, a similar car variant with similar features, dimensions, body, cabin and design would roughly cost twice in the EV version compared to the IC engine version. Now, most people use cars as a mere commodity to commute on a daily basis, and asking them to spend double the amount with the promise of saving the environment may not work.
Additionally, most cars sold in the world belong to the entry-level or one level above that. This means that the percentage of popular opting for an above-average car is already very low. Hence, most of the target audience is lost just because of the initial price itself. They don’t even go to test drive an EV.
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For those who do end up making up their minds to purchase an EV, the lack of charging infrastructure bothers them away. Even if you are lucky enough to have the money needed for an EV, the infrastructure around EVs is not in your hands. Hence, the fear of getting stranded on the freeways with no juice left in your vehicle can’t be overcome easily. And this is the reality of the entire world, excluding a handful of big cities in the world.
Governments all around the world are working relentlessly toward developing the charging infrastructure needed to make mass adoption of EVs a reality. But it could easily take a decade to accomplish. So, the immediate relief in this aspect is also nigh-impossible.
In recent times, we have seen EVs catching fire while driving or while charging in the parked position. While the number of such cases is extremely minute, the image that such incidents project causes anxiety among the potential buyers. Batteries of electric cars are simple chemical modules, and once they catch fire, the chemical reaction can’t be easily stopped. There have been instances where the batteries remained ablaze for upto 48 hours despite being washed down in the water.
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Although EVs don’t emit any smoke, or exhaust gases, the production of the batteries and charging stations do have a significantly large carbon footprint. The metals used in batteries like Lithium, Nickel, Cobalt, Manganese, etc. are also not readily available. These need to be extracted from the limited and disproportionate reserves located in a handful of countries in the world. There have been issues regarding the lack of ethical mining processes in Africa which defeats the very purpose that EVs are designed to solve.
The production of electricity and batteries already cause huge pollution and has a large carbon footprint. Hence, it would be naive to think that EVs are zero-emission products. That is one aspect that a lot of people miss out on Understanding how hybrid powertrains could help in emission reduction without even needing full-electric drivetrains could be a great start.
Batteries have a regular lifespan of about 8 years. That is what the manufacturers offer as the warranty period too. It has not been 8 years since the exponential rise in EV sales. This means that we need to wait for at least 6-7 years before the issue of battery recycling or disposal becomes apparent. The batteries can’t simply be dumped or destroyed because of the huge amounts of toxic chemicals they are composed of. We have not yet experienced the full extent of damage disposing of so many batteries would cause.
The only solution to this is if companies come up with recycling solutions in the meanwhile. Because once the large-scale battery disposing process begins, it would be catastrophic due to the land and water pollution.
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Could Hybrid Powertrains Be The Solution?
In my opinion, hybrid powertrains are the perfect tools to buy some more time while the aforementioned issues are resolved. There are not too many modifications required in a regular car to make it into a hybrid vehicle. The electric motor and the battery could be used to aid the IC engine to emit less pollution and increase fuel economy. The electric components are used in such a way that the engines are supported in the RPM range where they produce the most exhaust gases or consume the highest fuel.
This causes the overall efficiency of the hybrid powertrains to rise significantly, contributing to lowering the running costs and helping the environment one step at a time before full-electric drivetrains become feasible.