Toyota Motor Corporation (ADR) (TM): Is Tesla Motors Inc (TSLA)’s Model S Bad for the Environment?

That raises two big concerns. First, batteries, by their nature, lose charge over time — it’s unavoidable. Eventually, you’ll have to replace the battery or buy a new car. Second, as I’ve written before, lithium is an alkali metal and isn’t naturally occurring. It has to be refined after being extracted through salar brines (the most common approach) and mined hard rock. More pointedly, a study by the European Commission on Science for Environmental Policy states: “Although there is no immediate shortage of lithium, its continued use needs to be monitored, especially as lithium mining’s toxicity and location in places of natural beauty can cause significant environmental, health, and social impacts.”

To put it succinctly, what this all should mean is that the push toward all-electric cars needs to be re-evaluated by including lifecycle emissions, and not just “well-to-wheels” emissions.

What it actually means

Because the Environmental Protection Agency is pushing for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and has put in place new regulations, car manufacturers are pursuing ways to make their vehicles more “green.” However, when people make an argument for the environmental benefits of EVs, they’re probably unaware of overall lifecycle emissions. There’s also a great deal of money being invested in battery-powered cars — both by the government, and by vehicle manufacturers. Consequently, EVs will probably enjoy growing success — until science bites back.

For Tesla Motors Inc (NASDAQ:TSLA)’s Model S, this could be a problem. Right now, the Model S is winning accolades and standing ovations for being a brilliant EV. And it is. Make no mistake about it. But the fact remains that it’s worse for the climate than every other EV, and all but two hybrids.

What to watch

Tesla Motors Inc (NASDAQ:TSLA)’s current valuation is based in large part on the idea that it’s the carmaker of the future and that eventually it’ll make an EV that the masses can afford. That idea, in turn, is based on the idea that the masses will want an EV. Those are some big ifs, especially given that EVs rely on batteries that generate a huge carbon debt, rendering them anything but polar bear-friendly.

Yes, Tesla makes a beautiful car, but is the Model S the “green” car of the future? Frankly, I don’t think so. There are better alternative-energy solutions than batteries — which I’ll address in my next article.

The article Is Tesla’s Model S Bad for the Environment? originally appeared on and is written by Katie Spence.

Fool contributor Katie Spence has no position in any stocks mentioned. Follow her on Twitter: @TMFKSpenceThe Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Tesla Motors.

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