Does mining for batteries erase the climate benefits of EVs? No, and here's why

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2024-05-09 19:30:02

Earlier this year, NPR's podcast The Sunday Story reached out for listener questions about electric vehicles. You can hear the resulting podcast here. We're also taking some of the most-asked questions and answering them here on .

Electric vehicles are sometimes called "zero-emission vehicles." But the batteries that go into them are not zero-emission at all. In fact, making those batteries takes a lot of (mostly-not-clean) energy and hurts the environment in other ways, a fact that's become common knowledge after widespread media coverage.

Does that environmental damage cancel out the green benefits of giving up gasoline? Or, as Jennifer Sousie, who owns a Nissan Leaf, put it: "Does the manufacturing and ultimate disposal of the batteries completely negate all the good that the no-emission aspect of my car does?"

With all that's required to mine and process minerals — from giant diesel trucks to fossil-fuel-powered refineries — EV battery production has a significant carbon footprint. As a result, building an electric vehicle does more damage to the climate than building a gas car does.

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