Don’t electric cars pollute as much as petrol cars?

This is the question which gets asked so many times whenever someone asks why you would ever own one. To be honest this question doesn’t get asked as much as it gets said as a fact: Well, electric cars pollute more than petrol cars.

The answer is No — EV cars pollute less than petrol cars.

The answer is of course more complicated if you look at the facts, there are a couple of factors to consider when coming up with an answer.

Car Production

Looking at a cited example(Figure 2-3) from Daimler, for the Mercedes-Benz B-Class, the production of a normal petrol car is about 5.5 ton of CO2, whilst for the ED (Electric Drive) it’s just over 10 tons of CO2.

You need to look at the complete lifecycle, from production, through their years of service to in the end recycling. And it’s in their years of service there is a big difference. Say a car will, on average, be driven for 10 years. That’s just under 160 kms, and in the above example the petrol car will have polluted about 20 tons of CO2, while a EV car fuelled by a clean source 1/100th of that number.

So in the above example, a petrol car will produce around three times the amount of CO2 than the equivalent EV car.

Mining the materials of electric cars comes at a high environmental cost

Electric cars don’t grow on trees. Unfortunately that’s right, so you need to mine the materials: lithium, nickel and manganese. And this pollutes.

But frame this in terms of a petrol car where materials also need to be mined as well as the fact that crude oil needs to be processed and refined has an environmental cost, the fact is that raw materials for both petrol cars and electric cars come at an environmental cost and one isn’t better than the other.

EV Batteries don’t have a short life span

Some people interpret that a guarantee that a battery will last 5 years means they will fail after that. Compare that to KIA’s 7 year unlimited km warranty, this doesn’t mean KIA’s will break down after 7 years usage.

Car makers expect their batteries to outlive their cars in terms of lifetime and are planning to recycle them. Which leads me onto the next statement I’d like to debunk:

EV Batteries are not a ticking environmental bomb

To say that EV batteries can be recycled to be new EV batteries, although theoretically possible, is some way off an actual solution at the moment. However to generally recycle them into other usages is possible.

EV cars don’t have a short range

With a commuter driving 15km each way, or 30km per day. Even with a Nissan Leaf, one of the smaller cars, this shouldn’t be an issue unless your commute is over 170km per day. (In which case Tesla is always an option with it’s range of almost 600km fully charged).

Your (Grid) Energy — how carbon intensive is it?

If your electricity is from a green source, be it from your supplier or your own solar panels your carbon footprint is reduced.

However most still charge their vehicles with grid energy. While in the worst case countries with coal intensive generation like China, India or Australia your emissions are at equivalent range of a petrol car at of about 1L per 100km.

Even as a worst case scenario. You’re ahead with an EV vehicle.

Further improvements possible

As electricity generation is decarbonising globally, the challenge for car manufacturers is clearly to reduce the carbon intensity of the manufacturing process.

EV Adoption

A lot of governments around the world have incentive schemes to help the adoption of EVs despite the obvious economic benefits of cleaner air, less spending on health and reduction in reliance on oil.