Are Electric Cars Better for Environment – or Is It All a Myth?

The popularity of electric cars is surging, and their numbers on the road are increasing. But are electric cars better for the environment?

Electric car batteries are charged from the grid, which runs on electricity often produced by a fossil fuel-burning power station. The production of electric vehicles may also require more energy than the production of conventional vehicles.

Are Electric Cars Better for the Environment?

The short answer is that electric vehicles are indeed better for the environment. But their full potential for reducing emissions is still several years away.

Most experts think that electric vehicles produce fewer greenhouse gases than conventional vehicles that run on internal combustion engines over the course of their lifetime.

Research suggests that 95 percent of places across the globe, using electric cars provides more environmental benefits than driving fossil fuel-burning cars.

Are Electric Cars Better for Environment
Are Electric Cars Better for Environment

However, the environmental impact of electric vehicles is complicated because their batteries are charged with electricity produced from fossil fuels.

Hence, charging electric vehicle batteries often entails carbon emissions. Also, the production, of electric vehicle batteries is more energy-intensive.

An MIT study shows that electric vehicle battery production produces more greenhouse gases than gasoline-powered cars.

However, this environmental impact is offset by the better energy efficiency of electric vehicles over the course of their lives.

In other words, the emissions produced per mile for electric cars are lower than cars powered by gasoline.

This is why electric cars are better for the environment despite the environmental impact of battery production and charging.

Researchers involved in the MIT study said that in many countries, even with the current electricity grids (that are often powered by fossil fuels), driving electric vehicles produces less carbon emissions than driving conventional cars.

The full environmental potential of electric vehicles will be realized after electricity is produced mainly by renewable energy. It will probably be many years before that happens.

The same MIT researchers said that at present, electric vehicles generate about 200 grams of carbon dioxide per mile.

According to their projections, as renewable energy becomes more common, carbon dioxide emissions could drop to 50 grams by 2050.

Likewise, there are environmental benefits for hybrid cars that run on both conventional engines and batteries. Currently, hybrid vehicles produce around 275 grams of carbon dioxide for each mile driven.

As their technology improves, emissions from these vehicles will go down to around 160 – 210 grams of carbon dioxide per mile.

There is a wider range for hybrids due to the differences in fuel standards that exist in different places.

Decarbonization refers to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Efforts to reduce pollution in the production of electric vehicles and charging will further bring down carbon emissions.

Electric vehicles will reach their full decarbonization potential as carbon emissions go down in electricity generation and electric vehicle production.

Electric Vehicle Batteries

Electric vehicles run on rechargeable lithium-ion batteries. The processes for making these batteries involves the use of raw materials like lithium and cobalt. As a result, battery production is energy intensive.

The production of batteries is a key factor in the carbon emissions of electric vehicle manufacturing.

are electric cars better for the environment batteries
EV charging point for three electric cars parking service. Electric car charger connector for charging electric vehicle socket parking EV charger car recharge battery electric vehicle charging station

Electric vehicle production results in substantially more emissions than gasoline powered vehicle production production.

Depending on the country where the electric vehicle is manufactured, there may be 30 to 40 percent extra emissions. Most of this can be attributed to battery production.

Although electric vehicle production results in significantly more emissions, the lower per mile carbon dioxide emission rate means that electric vehicles produce less carbon dioxide over their lifetime than conventional cars.

China is the current leader in battery production. 93 factories in China produce lithium-ion batteries compared to just 4 in the US.

The battery is undoubtedly the most complicated part of the electric vehicle. The supply chain for battery production is complex.

The energy source that is used for battery production make a big difference to electric vehicle carbon emissions.

Older factories in China that are producing batteries are powered with the help of fossil fuels. Hence, electric vehicles made in these factories entail more emissions.

However, this trend is changing now because people realize the impact that the carbon footprint is having.

There are also other issue surrounding battery production. Mining practices for supplying battery raw materials are both unsustainable and often unethical. The supply chain is also very complex.

Due to these issues, the mining of raw materials for battery production might take the most time to reduce carbon emissions.

Recycling Batteries

Currently, few used batteries are recycled. However, that may change because the raw materials required for battery production are in short supply. Hence, firms will have no choice but to recycle batteries.

There are other reasons why battery recycling will become more common. Rules could be approved that will require manufacturers to dispose off batteries in a safer and more costly way to reduce their environmental impact. This may make recycling a cheaper and more viable alternative.

are electric cars better for the environment batteries
are electric cars better for the environment

The lack of recycling capabilities is an issue that the automotive sector needs to address. Many manufacturers are now making sure that they have battery recycling infrastructure in place to recycle used batteries.

Battery technology is continuously improving due to ongoing research. As a result, batteries will soon rely less on rare raw materials and will become more environmentally friendly.

Electricity Grid Carbon Emissions

Efforts are also being made to reduce carbon emissions from the electricity grid.

Renewable electricity is now becoming a larger part of electricity power generation. Each year, the percentage of electricity from renewable sources increases.

Building wind and solar-powered plants are now becoming easier than building plants that burn fossil fuels. As a result, renewable electricity generation is increasing worldwide.

However, there is some complication to renewable energy. The production of wind turbines and solar panels requires a large input of fossil fuels.

Hence, setting up wind turbines and solar-powered plants entails releasing large amounts of greenhouse gases.

The question is, how long will it take for the electricity grid to be decarbonized so that electric vehicles provide more environmental benefits?

Policies are Required for Reduce Carbon Emissions

The transition from gasoline-powered to electric vehicles is one of the many steps required for combating climate change.

Other steps are also necessary to protect the environment like more use of public transport and increased reliance on bicycles for transport.

A lot of policy planning and funding is necessary to reduce the use of private vehicles.

There are currently 1.2 billion fossil fuel-powered vehicles in the world today. The number is expected to rise significantly soon. There are just 10 million electric vehicles in the world today.

According to the International Energy Agency, electric vehicles will number around 145 million in 2030.

But even if everyone drove electrical vehicles instead of gasoline-powered vehicles, there would be a lot of emissions. So it is also necessary to reduce the number of cars on roads. Efforts must be made so that people use more public transport.

What Does Research Say?

Research indicates that electric cars may be better for the environment. Even after considering the production of electric vehicles and recharging them, they produce fewer emissions than gasoline-powered cars.

A major benefit of electric vehicles is that the air quality in towns and cities will improve considerably. Since electric cars have no tailpipe, they do not release harmful pollutants to the atmosphere when you drive them. This can help to reduce air pollution substantially.

More electric cars on the streets will mean less carbon dioxide emissions. A single electric car on the road can save over a million grams of carbon dioxide in just one year.

Besides air pollution, electric pollution can also help overcome noise pollution. Cities will become more peaceful and quieter with electric vehicles since they generally produce less noise than gasoline-powered vehicles.

The Effect of Electric Car Production on the Environment

A lot of energy is required to produce electric vehicles. Even after electric vehicles, including battery production is accounted for, it is found that electric cars result in less pollution than conventional vehicles. This happens because electric vehicles result in less emissions over their lifetime.

The production of electric cars results in more emissions than the production of conventional cars. Much of this has to do with electric car batteries, which are a crucial part of electric cars.

It is estimated that around a third of the carbon dioxide emissions of electric cars over their lifetime occur during the manufacturing process itself. However, as technology continues to evolve, the situation will slowly improve.

Recycling and reusing batteries is expanding. Research is being carried out on how to use second batteries.

Batteries are being developed for use in advanced energy storage applications. This will reduce the environmental impact of battery manufacturing.

Electricity to Fuel Electric Cars

The European Energy Agency has conducted research that shows that electric cars reduce carbon emissions by 17 to 30 percent compared to conventional cars even after you factor in electricity for recharging electric vehicles.

There are further improvements in emissions levels when renewable electricity is used for generating electricity.

Due to increasing public concerns over the impact of climate change, there is a global interest in reducing the emissions of carbon dioxide. As a result, electric cars are becoming more attractive.

Electric cars also have greater efficiency than diesel and petrol-powered cars. An EU study found that for driving the same distance, an electric car (charged by an oil-fired power station) requires only two-thirds of the energy that a conventional car needs.

Are Electric Cars Better for the Environment
Are Electric Cars Better for the Environment

Since electric cars need less energy to travel the same distance, it means that they can benefit the environment by reducing greenhouse gases. 

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Bottom Line

There is a prevailing myth that electric cars are worse for the environment compared to gasoline-powered cars owing to oil-fired plant emissions.

However, the truth is that even after factoring in power plant emissions, electric vehicles result in less pollution than conventional cars. This holds true even if fossil fuels are used in the power plants that recharge electric car batteries. As battery production technology improves, there will be less emissions during the production of electric vehicles.