It’s a no-brainer that electric cars – without an exhaust pipe – are cleaner than internal combustion cars – with an exhaust pipe. But the actual analysis is not as straightforward as it sounds.
To be specific, you need to look at the vehicles you are comparing throughout the process from manufacturing to disposal. It’s called Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), covering everything from material extraction to manufacturing. packaging and transport, use and end of life.
There has been misinformation about it, including a 2007 report that the Toyota Prius Hybrid polluted more in its lifetime than a GM Hummer. But cooler heads definitely give the green light to electricity.
The International Council for Clean Transportation (ICCT) is the group that exposed the Volkswagen diesel scandal, and it has analyzed the markets in Europe, the United States, China and India, with a focus on emissions of greenhouse gases at every stage of life.
Electric vehicles have “the lowest emissions by far”
“The results show that even for cars registered today, battery-electric vehicles have by far the lowest life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions,” ICCT said in a report released more early in July. Figures show that a mid-size electric vehicle has a lower climate impact in Europe (a reduction of 66-69%), the United States (60-68%), China (37-45%) and India (19 to 34%). In the United States today, electric vehicles emit a third of the lifetime emissions of their internal combustion brethren, according to the report.
Greener power supply boosts the advantage of electric vehicles
And the ICCT study indicates that the gap between electric vehicles and gasoline-powered cars will only widen. Why? Because electric vehicles power the grid and electricity supplies are quickly “green” with the addition of solar and wind power to the mix.
There are many other studies of this type. The city of Vancouver, Canada conducted an LCA study in 2018, comparing a Ford Focus and a Mitsubishi i-MiEV battery-powered car over a lifespan of 150,000 kilometers or 93,000 miles. The conclusion was that the Focus emitted 392 grams of carbon dioxide equivalent per kilometer, on average over its lifetime, compared to 203 grams for the Mitsubishi. “The analysis shows that the electric vehicle has considerably less carbon emissions and lower energy consumption per kilometer,” the study said.
A 2019 academic study by Italian scientists, published in Modern environmental science and engineering, came to similar conclusions. “The analysis shows that electric vehicles are more efficient than traditional ones, in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, depletion of non-renewable resources and air pollutant emissions affecting urban areas.” On average, the reduction was around 50 percent, although some small gasoline-powered cars – the Fiat 500 and Ford Focus – performed relatively well because of their high level of efficiency.
And the European company Transport & Environment was even more categorical in its LCA analysis. “The potential of electric cars to reduce CO₂ emissions is clear: on average, electric vehicles are almost three times cleaner than diesel and gasoline. [gas] cars today, “says the 2020 report.” Discussing whether electric cars powered by coal are better or worse for the climate than conventional cars is no longer relevant (electric vehicles are 30% more proper at that time). The urgency must be to accelerate the transition to electric mobility while decarbonizing the electricity network. Waiting for the network to decarbonise before moving to zero-emission mobility would further increase carbon emissions and seriously undermine any chances of achieving the Paris Agreement.
The bottom line: More and more research shows that the impact on the lifespan of electric vehicles is less than the impact of vehicles with combustion engines. But that may not be enough – perhaps never – to convince the most bitter critics.