Is the production of electric motors bad for the environment?

Is the production of electric motors bad for the environment?

There is often confusion around whether the production of electric motors and batteries actually produces fewer emissions than the production of internal combustion engines. Whilst an electric motor will not emit any CO2 while in use, there are other stages in the process that do come under scrutiny, which add to their overall carbon footprint. While any kind of electric motor continues to be manufactured in a fossil fuel burning facility, there will be a case that they will contribute to CO2 emissions in the same way as the production of fuel burning motors.

The three stages contributing to the overall carbon footprint include the pollution caused by the manufacturing process, energy production and end of life processes. As these processes will be done with the use of fuel burning resources, the net effect can be seen as producing a similar amount of CO2 overall as producing any other type of motor.  

In the case of the manufacturing process, rare earth elements such as neodymium and lithium-ion used in battery production need to be mined and extracted from the ground using lengthy processes which are very energy consuming and of course create pollution.  

Energy production refers to the CO2 that is created and released into the atmosphere by power plants responsible for manufacturing the motors. The environmental effects of manufacturing plants are still a key factor in the overall carbon footprint of motor production (of any motor type).

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Drive systems and the fight against climate change

Climate change is of course a hot topic – and one that we could write lengthy articles about. As many worldwide entities are committed to investing more into fighting it, we continue to gain a better understanding of the Earth’s climate system. Through advancements in science and observation, we can learn more about human and natural influences and what potential response options can be deployed.  

The production of fuel powered motors is seen as one of the largest contributors of carbon emissions from the global energy system.  

Drive systems designed and manufactured to power electric motor applications are becoming smarter and more efficient. With this focus on efficiency, manufacturers can create systems that not only tick this box, but use less energy, produce less waste and reduce their carbon footprint, which is of course good for the environment.  

With the ever-present threat of climate change manufacturers are all too aware of how they can design and produce motors that can be part of the solution, not part of the problem. Designing and producing sustainable products with high recyclability is just the beginning, and the shift towards manufacturing using more renewable energy sources only helps the cause further.  

Battery production and recycling

As technology advances in this space, batteries are becoming smaller and more powerful. With the uptake of newer technologies, and with the shift to electric motors, the number of batteries being produced will inevitably increase, as will the pollution from the factories that manufacture them.  

Recycling of old batteries is still considered a difficult and expensive process, and many batteries are simply not yet being recycled as much as they could be, or at all. Lithium-ion batteries can be recycled; however, they contain a very specific mix of chemical components and only small quantities of lithium.  

Until a stronger battery recycling industry is created to combat the growing end-of-life battery industry, we could be facing an additional waste problem in the interim. However, as the recycling industry catches up, we can expect electric motors to become ultimately ‘greener’ due to the overall reduced carbon footprint over their lifetime.

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We know that production of internal combustion engines by factories using fossil fuels continues to contribute to harming the environment. The production of electric motors in a similar capacity currently is not a lot better. However, the key is how to emit less CO2, not just in motor production, but over the entire lifetime of the motor. As technology advances in energy generation, using more sustainable practices and renewable energy sources will clearly help. The recycling of lithium-ion batteries also comes into play when considering ongoing environmental effects, and as time and technology advances, we can expect to see more focus placed on re-using and recycling.


Rob Keating

Rob is a content creator and copywriter for Fisher & Paykel Technologies. His work includes the Knowledge Hub, email, website and social media copy, along with customer communications.
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electric motor production, battery production, environmental effects, battery recycling, reducing emissions
October 26, 2022
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