The Hidden effects of Hybrids
The environmental impact of automobiles has been a concern for many years. Although measures have been taken in the past to reduce the impact of American drivers, such as the emissions control laws of the 1970’s, many are concerned that this is not enough. To many, widespread adaptation of hybrid technology is the answer to their concerns over the condition of the environment. The problem with this concept is that hybrids can affect the environment in many ways other than emissions produced by everyday operation. This leads me to the conclusion that choosing a hybrid car over a similar standard car will not have a decreased impact on the environment overall.
Production of a hybrid vehicle is a much more complicated process compared to the build process of a traditional car. For all vehicles, it is estimated that 10-20% of their lifetime emissions are released during the manufacturing stage. In addition, lightweight vehicles made of materials such as aluminum rather than steel often require much more energy to produce. Vehicles such as the Toyota Prius have to utilize this type of technology, as weight savings are essential in order to compensate for the added weight of battery packs and electric motors that supplement the preexisting 4-cylinder motor that is used as the primary power source in the Prius. These efforts in weight savings still yield a car that is just shy of 3,000 lbs. Toyota has openly admitted in the past that production of the Prius emits more carbon dioxide and requires more energy than production of a standard car.
The materials used to produce hybrid batteries are another subject of concern. Typical hybrids use either nickel-hydride or lithium-ion batteries that rely heavily on the mining of nickel and copper, among other rare earth metals. Cars that utilize a nickel-hydride battery pack also have the additional blight of producing about 22 lbs. of sulfur oxide, compared to about 2 lbs. in a conventional car. Lithium has its drawbacks as well, as it is sourced cheaply from China, who is able to lower costs by ignoring environmental safety in their mining processes. China has even gone as far as to admit to the New York Times that rare earth mining has been abused in China, and that it has “caused great harm to the ecology and environment.”
In addition to all this information regarding the production effects of hybrids, they are still not emissions-free. If you combine the effects of producing a hybrid vehicle with its still-present automotive emissions, it can be asserted that hybrids are not more beneficial to the environment than a standard car.
“Does hybrid car production waste offset hybrid benefits?” howstuffworks.com. Dave Roos. 6 Dec 2010. 9 Apr 2013