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Are E-Scooters Really that Eco-Friendly?
By Francesca Bradley ’21
(Image Credit: Pixabay)
The first mass-produced electric scooter was invented in 1996 and was called the Scoot’Elec. The nickel-cadmium batteries it required were not eco-friendly and the scooter itself was heavy. In 2009, Inokim, an e-scooter manufacturer, created a new design with more efficient lithium-ion batteries that could be charged at home. Lithium-ion batteries are commonly found in laptops, smartphones and tablets. By 2020, e-scooters are found in cities worldwide due to their low environmental footprint and maintenance, ease of use and portability. Each design has a record speed, an accessible app that comes with it and less pollution than before. So what’s the catch and how much more eco-friendly are they?
To understand e-scooters’ real environmental impact, you must examine the four main phases of its life cycle. First is the production phase, which includes all the energy used to construct the vehicle, such as raw materials and energy employed in the transformation and assembly steps. The first stage comes up a lot in discussions regarding electronic devices and the considerable amount of polluting via the batteries. Second is the energy production phase, meaning the amount of pollution generated by energy while the vehicle is in operation. This depends on how the electricity is produced. If the energy is renewable or decarbonated, the environmental impact will be lower than electricity from burning fossil fuels. Next is the actual use phase. Fortunately, electric vehicles do not emit carbon dioxide or fossil fuels when they are in motion; however, recharging an e-scooter can have a negative environmental impact. For example, the carbon emission generated by trucks transporting the scooter must be considered. Finally, what happens to the vehicle at the end of its life? This step is crucial as e-scooters have rare and potentially polluting materials that must be accounted for.
After looking at the four general steps of an electric vehicle’s life cycle, you can look at specific data regarding e-scooters. According to scientists at NC State University, an e-scooter’s production phase accounts for 50% of the vehicle’s manufacturing carbon. Batteries themselves require energy to be made and often produce more carbon dioxide than an efficient, conventional car. Additionally, 43% of their greenhouse gas emissions are linked to recharging due to the collection and transportation needed. But the most significant problem with electric scooters is their short life span, which, according to several sources, is at most a few years. Shared scooters can have an even shorter life span. The scooters do not have much mileage on them when thrown away, wasting a polluting battery that has not had enough time to be diluted.
So, when the production phase can be made more efficient and the life span is extended, e-scooters could become a better alternative. But, for now, stick to known eco-friendly modes of transportation such as walking or biking if you want to have a less environmental impact.
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