Addressing Carbon Emissions Across the Value Chain | Heisener Electronics
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Addressing Carbon Emissions Across the Value Chain

Technology Cover
Post Date: 2024-05-09, Cree Inc.

Today’s electric vehicles, directly or indirectly,  cause greenhouse gas emissions during their life cycle. Emissions do not only refer to the operational phases of the  means of transport but are also closely linked to the production of the vehicle itself,  the extraction and processing of raw materials, the assembly and transport operations,  and the possible source of the energy for charging from non-renewable sources and for disposal at the end of its life.  The reduction of the carbon footprint, in the management of electric vehicles,  is therefore not an operation linked to a single branch, but it embraces various sectoral decisions.

Introduction

The demand for electric vehicles is accelerating and, now more than ever,  the promotion of a transition towards 100% zero-emission vehicles is needed. Although electric vehicles do not directly  emit greenhouse gases, the current production of electronic circuits (batteries and, indirectly,  charging infrastructure) requires large amounts of energy. Many electric vehicle manufacturers use energy from coal  power plants,  which have a massive carbon footprint. The carbon footprint is a parameter that quantifies the amount of greenhouse  gases, mainly carbon dioxide (CO2),  released into the atmosphere due to human activities and is intended to evaluate the impact of lifestyle on global  warming and changes in climate. Its calculation is quite complex and takes into account various factors such as energy  consumption, the impact of transport, waste management, and many others.

The fact that electric vehicles have zero exhaust emissions is now a fact. They do not release any pollutants directly  into the air, but their overall carbon footprint is present in the entire chain,  from their production to disposal. This parameter should then be compared with that of vehicles fueled by petrol or  diesel to understand their real environmental impact. Overall,  studies show that electric vehicles leave a fairly smaller carbon footprint than gasoline-powered vehicles,  relative to their entire life cycle. However, the difference depends on several factors,  such as the model of the electric vehicle, the type of battery,  and the source of the electricity used for charging. The community aims to be carbon-independent within a few decades,  and to this end, various governments are promulgating various regulations to achieve this goal, globally.

The production of semiconductor components

The production of semiconductors requires large quantities of resources and energy, water, and gas,  with greenhouse gas emissions,  and they increase in proportion to the global demand for chips. The semiconductor industry contributes significantly to  global greenhouse gas emissions and the production of newly developed chips requires a lot of water and electricity  compared to traditional technologies,  resulting in higher CO2 emissions. The production process is complex and requires the use of highly energy-intensive  materials, such as silicon and, above all, SiC and GaN.

Semiconductor factories operate continuously day and night, consuming large amounts of energy and water,  which is used for cleaning and cooling operations of various parts during the production process. Pollution,  due to semiconductor production, is somewhat at odds with global decarbonization goals,  and the growing demand for chips could also exacerbate the water crisis,  especially in regions of the world with high drought rates.

Furthermore,  the extraction processes of productive resources could also cause environmental and economic damage. It is important to  note that industries are currently investing in more efficient and sustainable production technologies,  with the use of renewable energy and recycling of various materials. New chip architectures are also being designed to  help reduce energy consumption during the manufacturing of electronic devices themselves. Discoveries are opening the  doors for better ways to design electronic products with longer lifespans and lower repairability rates,  to reduce the need for new industrial production.

The carbon footprint from electric vehicles

The electric transport sector involves many technologies which, today, are increasingly cutting-edge,  and the carbon impact does not depend only on the cars in the strict sense but also on everything that is directly and  indirectly around them. The creation of charging infrastructures (see Figure 1) and the production and disposal of  batteries are focused on minimizing the impact of carbon on the environment and this challenge is made even more complex  due to the exponential growth in demand for electric vehicles. When it comes to batteries,  consumers demand that their electric vehicles charge very quickly, have longer autonomy,  and all this at the lowest possible price.

Nowadays,  infrastructures cannot avoid the adoption of photovoltaic panels of suitable dimensions for the generation of clean and  renewable energy. Technology and the increase in demand are currently allowing for a reduction in prices with an  increase in relative efficiency. Sustainable materials also play a very important role as their impact has repercussions  in the construction of charging infrastructures but also in the vehicles themselves. With the use of sustainable  materials,  the reduction of the carbon footprint is a certainty. The construction sector is focusing on the use of  low-environmental impact materials in projects. A good example of respect for the environment must start from charging  stations, especially intelligent ones, and their advantages are present for the entire lifespan of these stations.

Sustainable materials minimize non-renewable resources and decrease related emissions,  resulting in a reduced carbon footprint. Sustainable materials have, for example, improved insulating properties,  and they reduce energy consumption. The average lifespan of sustainable materials is also longer,  and this allows for less frequent repairs or replacements in the face of more solid and long-lasting structures,  saving money but, above all,  decreasing waste production. Companies are constantly looking for sustainable materials for the construction of charging  stations. Recycled materials today lure interest from companies,  as they are cheaper and guarantee the same structural integrity and solidity compared to new factory models.

Even recycled plastic, with the addition of special substances,  constitutes a good ecological material and can often worthily replace other construction materials. This solution helps  to drastically reduce the amount of plastic waste which, as we know, fills all parts with the world. Lately,  natural materials are also gaining the interest of companies, such as bamboo,  which is very light and extremely resistant and insulating from a thermal and acoustic point of view.

    

The first step for electric car owners.

Responsibility for carbon impact on the environment is often attributed to producers, companies, and factories. This is indeed the case, but the first step towards reducing pollution should be taken by users and consumers. One of the many ways to achieve this goal is to recharge vehicles with electricity generated by the sun, through the use of solar panels and suitable circuits for energy transformation. Today the supply of electricity from the grid relies on coal and natural gas power plants, and a significant part of the grid’s electricity is still produced by burning fossil fuels, so we certainly cannot speak of clean energy. In this way, electric vehicles, even if not directly, are still responsible for some CO2 emissions.

With the installation of solar charging systems (see Figure 2), vehicles can be recharged directly with clean and renewable solar energy, 24 hours a day, producing a benefit both for the environment and for your wallet. Charging your electric vehicle with solar energy certainly reduces your carbon footprint, increases savings on your electricity bill, and makes you much more independent of the public or private network. Today, charging systems can create renewable energy during the day and store it for later use, so it is possible to charge cars with clean energy during the night. In this way, the carbon footprint of the individual vehicle is significantly reduced and, to understand the importance of this operation, try to multiply the advantage obtained for the millions of vehicles scattered around the world.


Conclusion

Far-reaching environmental impact is an urgent challenge that requires long-term commitment from everyone, and only through collective actions can a sustainable future be achieved. In this recent period, many companies in the semiconductor sector have taken the direction of sustainable production but, in reality, there is still a lot of work to be done to make semiconductor manufacturing fully sustainable, as the carbon footprint is still significant. Producing a single chip requires a considerable amount of energy, water, and materials.

Sustainability does not only apply to the uses of electric cars, but also to the production of batteries and other devices related to vehicles that go through industrial phases with highly dangerous impacts on the environment. All institutions are already adopting strategies and rules to obtain 100% zero-emission electric vehicles, not only during use but also in the production phases and, above all, in the disposal, recycling, and recovery of materials.

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