To effectively transition to zero-emission vehicles, many barriers need to be addressed

By Megan Link

Electric vehicles (EVs) will be critical for meeting ambitious climate goals at the national, state, and local levels, but their rapid adoption continues to face challenges.  This wrap-up touches on the latest barriers that are essential to overcome. 

The rare materials needed for batteries are laden with logistical and political challenges. 

The main raw materials needed to create batteries for EVs are Lithium, Cobalt, and Nickel. Limited sources and a complex extraction process make meeting the growing global demand for batteries more difficult without a substantial investment and adjusting supply chains to effectively process and distribute these resources. S&P Global discusses the environmental, political, and ethical concerns that have arisen due to increased battery demand. The extraction and refinement process are water-, land-, and energy-intensive. Cobalt is largely found in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which is facing a humanitarian crisis with unethical work standards. Countries like China are starting to dominate the production of some materials, causing geopolitical tension. The Inflation Reduction Act, which aims to help the United States focus on domestic supply chains, may address some of these concerns.  

Sales forecasts are still lower than what is needed. 

Many target goals have been set to sell a certain percentage of zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs) within the next 10-15 years. Despite some countries, such as the U.S., hoping to sell 50% EV by 2035, a case study in Canada points to a lag in sales, with Canada selling 6% in 2021 while the U.S. sold 5%. Current baseline policy scenarios do not meet these sales goals, with simulations showing only 24% ZEV sales in 2030 and 38% sales in 2035. The study points to three policy mechanisms for achieving 100% of sales over the same period: mandates, standards, and feebates. Mandates, requiring automakers to sell a certain number of ZEVs, proved to be the most cost-effective policy due to the focus on sales goals and allowing manufacturers to choose from different strategies to meet goals. Standards (progressively reducing vehicle emissions) and feebates (charging a fee to consumers purchasing higher emissions vehicles), can still meet the 100% sales goal, but at a higher cost, with feebates the most expensive option. All three policies, if aggressively implemented, can reach the target goal, but preferences on cost-effectiveness, consumer preference, and government action can affect these findings. Combining policies would create the largest impact and highest reduction to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The study concludes, “Policy scenarios tend to be less efficient when technology options are limited, compliance options are limited, or overall GHG emissions reductions are greater.” 

EVs still pose unique challenges for pedestrian safety. 

A new study analyzes the increased safety risks EVs may have on pedestrians as they continue to become integrated into society. Pedestrians rely on both sight and sound to avoid collision while crossing the street, a warning system that can be altered in the presence of a quieter EV compared to a traditional vehicle. When both EVs and traditional vehicles are at a constant speed, there is not a significant difference between a pedestrian’s ability to determine how much time they have before collision. However, pedestrians overestimate their ability to cross the street as EVs accelerate, increasing the likelihood of a crash. EVs have started to develop acoustic vehicle alerting systems (AVAS) to produce an audible sound to address this increased safety risk. Although AVAS provides more audio cues for the pedestrian, they only partially compensate for the lack of accelerating sound pedestrians are accustomed to from internal combustion engines. This still causes some level of overestimation of crossing time on the part of pedestrians. With the continued transition to EVs, it will be necessary to address these ongoing safety risks.  

Those who drive the most are the least likely to buy EVs. 

Consumer preference and adopting EVs into society is an important link to increase EV demand. A case study in Vermont details a consistent opinion about EVs across the state: many would consider owning an EV if the cost decreased. In rural communities, adopting EVs is more challenging, often due to a culture of automobile dependence as a response to lack of services and public transportation. In addition, most of the public is unaware of incentives or rebate programs to lower the cost of buying an EV, indicating the need for public education and communication.  

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions requires minimizing the emissions from current transportation systems. Even though EVs are a major step toward reducing emissions, addressing these challenges, and shifting policies away from vehicle dependence need to be considered. 

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