A new study dispels the persistent myth that electric cars pollute just as much as gas-powered cars because they charge on a “dirty” electric grid, and mining for battery materials is polluting.
While electric cars have no tailpipe emissions, unlike vehicles equipped with an internal combustion engine, they still pollute through the energy needed to produce them, like any other product, and with the electricity used to charge them if it’s not renewable.
However, it has been commonly understood that electric vehicles are still more efficient than their gas-powered counterparts throughout their entire life cycle despite those sources of emissions.
But there have been persistent myths pushed by electric vehicle detractors claiming that those sources of emissions actually make electric cars just as or even more polluting than gasoline-powered vehicles.
A new study by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) is debunking that with “a global comparison of the life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions of combustion engine and electric passenger cars.”
The ICCT looked at the entire life cycle from sourcing of the battery materials to the production of the vehicle, both BEVs and ICEs, and then compiled driving data in different markets to get an average life-cycle emission from the use of the vehicles.
The group then used the electricity mix of each region (Europe, US, China, and India) to develop average lifetime emissions.
It resulted in battery-electric vehicles having far fewer emissions than gasoline-powered cars in all markets:
“Results show that even for cars registered today, battery electric vehicles (BEVs) have by far the lowest life-cycle GHG emissions. As illustrated in the figure below, emissions over the lifetime of average medium-size BEVs registered today are already lower than comparable gasoline cars by 66%–69% in Europe, 60%–68% in the United States, 37%–45% in China, and 19%–34% in India. Additionally, as the electricity mix continues to decarbonize, the life-cycle emissions gap between BEVs and gasoline vehicles increases substantially when considering medium-size cars projected to be registered in 2030.”
Here’s the figure referenced in the comment:
Even in the US today, electric vehicles emit only a third to half of the lifetime emissions of gasoline-powered vehicles.
Of course, the difference is also improving with renewable energy being deployed faster than any other source of electricity generation.
But it might not be fast enough.
The error bars in the graph represent the difference in the development of the electricity mix and what is required to align with the Paris Agreement.
It shows that most markets would actually need to accelerate renewable energy deployment.
However, it doesn’t change the fact that electric vehicles clearly emit fewer emissions now, and therefore, they are superior at combating climate change.
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