Business Review Board / April 25, 2019

Electric Vehicles Leave Outsized Carbon Footprint

When all factors are considered, electric vehicles are not nearly as pollution free as many assume.

A new study performed by scientists in Germany has found that electric vehicles account for more CO2 emissions than diesel cars. The authors of the study also criticized European Union legislation, saying, “[It] allows electric vehicles to be included in calculations for fleet emissions with a value of ‘zero’ CO2 emissions, as this suggests that electric vehicles do not generate any such emissions. The reality is that, in addition to the CO2 emissions generated in the production of electric vehicles, almost all EU countries generate significant CO2 emissions from charging the vehicles’ batteries using their national energy production mixes. The authors also take a critical view of the discussion about electric cars in Germany, which centers around battery-operated vehicles when other technologies also offer great potential: hydrogen-powered electric vehicles or vehicles with combustion engines powered by green methane, for instance.”

One of the most obvious objections to how electric vehicles are marketed is the dubious claim that these cars are essentially pollution free. While it is true that during operation the vehicles produce no polluting emissions, what is conveniently overlooked is the emissions given off when producing the electricity that powers these vehicles. Moreover, the process for constructing the batteries needed for these vehicles to run produces a high amount of pollution given the overall energy output.

As the Brussels Times reports, “Mining and processing the lithium, cobalt and manganese used for batteries consume a great deal of energy. A Tesla Model 3 battery, for example, represents between 11 and 15 tonnes of CO2. Given a lifetime of 10 years and an annual travel distance of 15,000 kilometres, this translates into 73 to 98 grams of CO2 per kilometre, scientists Christoph Buchal, Hans-Dieter Karl and Hans-Werner Sinn noted in their study. The CO2 given off to produce the electricity that powers such vehicles also needs to be factored in, they say. When all these factors are considered, each Tesla emits 156 to 180 grams of CO2 per kilometre, which is more than a comparable diesel vehicle produced by the German company Mercedes, for example.”

The study’s authors conclude that “hydrogen-powered electric vehicles or vehicles with combustion engines powered by green methane” would be a better means to reduce vehicle pollution than battery-powered vehicles.

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