The next Diesel-gate could well be electric cars.
No tailpipe emissions, but a dirty birth and no word on the after life emissions leave a hole in the eco message.
The market is beginning to draw a quicker pace and the rush from legacy carmakers is forcing a higher quality product, not just in range but durability. The problem is that governments are so desperate for some good PR on climate change we may all be hearing a half-truth. Motoring enthusiasts are fairly silent on the matter, no one with a V8 wants to make too much noise in case they become outlawed. The environmental lobby has been attacking cars since their inception as the soft and easy target they are made for quick wins. The sad point behind all this is that the real equation is being ignored, just like when the clean diesel message was being shouted from the rooftops. The fact is, at the moment and for the foreseeable future, lithium, cobalt, and a host of other precious metals are mined out of the ground, much like fossil fuels. The impact is considerable, this isn't to say oil is any better, but shouldn't we be looking for a better answer than a replacement of the current method of mining our earth's resources. Again, combustion cars still contain some precious metals, ironically this is usually with their emission control units like catalytic converters.
It makes you wonder how any government can offer to pay part of the purchase price for an electric vehicle when the process of getting it on the road has meant mining, machining, and emitting pollution. Once again, this isn't a hit piece on electric cars, combustion vehicles also have to be manufactured, although generally what is left behind once they reach the end of the use is interior trim, chunks of metal that is crushed ready to be used again and some nasties that need proper disposal. These are usually the battery, emissions control units, and sensors/radars.
One thing that is of no doubt is that at least the pollution isn't released in city centres, but we may be worrying about the health effects of one polluter whilst ignoring the other. Batteries and precious metals that are not properly disposed of can end up in landfills, ever wonder where your old mobile phone is. Probably rotting away in a developing nation that was paid to accept the waste. Some of the materials can end up in the soil, atmosphere, and rivers. We can all agree this isn't something we want.
Any answer in sight?
Manufacturers are becoming aware of this problem and trying to reduce the carbon-intensive production of electric and I.C.E vehicles. More recyclable materials are also being used, but in the grand scheme of things, most electric car makers are fledgling, their ability to soak up huge costs by being made responsible for a vehicle's disposal at end of life isn't gaining much traction.
It could actually become the issue that the production end becomes clean enough that electric cars for their whole life (not including disposal) become cleaner than the production of conventional cars. This may be a way off, but what will still separate them is disposal and this is where answers are needed.
The left-field answer is simply to say, companies are responsible for the complete clean disposal of electric and combustion vehicles. No footprint would be allowed to remain and if it did severe financial penalties could be applied. It doesn't sound that wild but if tech companies can keep selling disposable, difficult to repair gadgets, car companies will have a fair argument in not wanting to be singled out. Sadly, consumers have been left with this burden and a true shift to company ownership of emissions would be the only real answer.
A more accepted answer that has been gaining more followers is the push for simply owning items longer and maintaining them better. No one really needs a new car every three or four years, we just want one. It's a free world after all, but choice doesn't have to be harmful. Buying used, and having an overall shift in mindset to repairing and caring for vehicles would stretch out their life cycle and mean less polluting manufacturing. The OEM's probably like this answer the least, but it is a simple fix, if we expected a brand new car today to last twenty years minimum, then you could cut roughly a third of new car production.
The fuel? This is one of the most interesting aspects, green activists may think burning every car with an engine is the best answer but they would be plain wrong. E-fuels that work with our current engines and are carbon neutral are already available, but not mass-produced due to cost. It is worth stressing these are carbon-neutral, not net zero. You essentially capture the carbon and then return it. So no additional carbon dioxide is added. This mixed with petrol particulate filters on newer vehicles would actually be the quickest way to reduce global emission and particulate emission as petrol engines emit less harmful particulates than diesel.
There is a final option, and that is more of a reinvention of the wheel. A complete overhaul of transportation so that cars become the equivalent of horses. No one is riding their horse to work, but they still watch them race at the weekend or go for a stroll in a field. The idea of governments around the world being able to offer such a convincing transport system that no one wants to use their car is tough to imagine, with only a handful of example almost all being city-states that understood early on that single person modes of transport would not be an option and so rationed.
A final takeaway, if in 2004 someone had said that Diesel engines are not good for the environment that would have been drowned out by governments and environmentalists wanting to put their weight behind something they believed was the answer. Sometimes we can want an answer too much and lead ourselves astray. Let's hope we aren't repeating our mistake as an electric future is thrust into the mainstream.