inFact with Brian Dunning inFact with Brian Dunning

 

Are Electric Cars Really Green?

Yes, despite what Internet EV-haters claim, electric cars really are cleaner... a LOT cleaner.

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The debate over whether electric cars actually produce more greenhouse gases than internal combustion cars is actually a proxy debate between those who accept climate science and those on the side of the dying fossil fuel industry who want to turn the clock back. Their argument, intended to frighten you away from buying an EV, is that making the giant battery is such a dirty process that it outruns any savings from not burning gasoline, and that generating the electricity uses the same dirty fossil fuels anyway so there's nothing to be gained.

It's true that all the resources that go into mining and manufacturing EV batteries does mean that manufacturing EVs produces more greenhouse gases than internal combustion cars. Depending on the car and the size of the battery, the manufacture produces between 15 and 68 percent more greenhouse gases. But what they fail to note is that manufacturing is only one stage in a car's entire lifetime. And because of the fuel savings, by the end of the car's life, an EV has produced, in total, only 47 to 49 percent as much greenhouse gases as an internal combustion car.

So now let's look at the source of generating all that electricity, which the haters tell you makes EVs just as dirty. A great way to look at it is this map, produced by the Union of Concerned Scientists. Taking into account how electricity is generated in every region, it shows what equivalent miles per gallon electric cars are getting, based on the greenhouse gases produced by making the electricity. In the very worst places, it's still far better than the average internal combustion cars. Most places it's way better than that, and in some places, it's amazing. These numbers are 10% better than their map from two years ago, because the electric grid is getting cleaner all the time, so it's only going to continue looking better and better.

This much cleaner running of an EV is what turns the equation upside down and more than overcomes the extra greenhouse gases from the battery's manufacture.

Finally, there's the recycling of the EV battery at the end of the car's life. The haters will tell you the process is dangerous, expensive, and extremely polluting. The reason we know they're lying is that this doesn't really exist yet. Very few EVs have reached the end of their life, and all EV manufacturers are just starting to explore pilot programs with recycling partners. There's a tremendous amount of investment flowing into this, and it's an exciting growth industry, so you college kids look into it. All expectations are that recovering the valuable materials from EV batteries will be both profitable and carbon neutral.

So, enjoy your EV, and don't listen to yesterday's news.

— Brian Dunning

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References & Further Reading

Ballaban, M. "Enough with the Actually, Electric Cars Pollute More BS Already." Jalopnik. Gizmodo Media Group, 29 Apr. 2019. Web. 17 Jul. 2019. <https://jalopnik.com/enough-with-the-actually-electric-cars-pollute-more-bu-1834338565>

DOE. "Reducing Pollution with Electric Vehicles." Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. United States Department of Energy, 2 Feb. 2017. Web. 18 Jul. 2019. <https://www.energy.gov/eere/electricvehicles/reducing-pollution-electric-vehicles>

DOE. "Emissions from Hybrid and Plug-In Electric Vehicles." Alternative Fuels Data Center. United States Department of Enery, 26 Nov. 2018. Web. 18 Jul. 2019. <https://afdc.energy.gov/vehicles/electric_emissions.html>

Dyer, E. "That Tesla Battery Emissions Study Making the Rounds? It's Bunk." Popular Mechanics. Hearst Digital Media, 22 Jun. 2017. Web. 17 Jul. 2019. <https://www.popularmechanics.com/cars/hybrid-electric/news/a27039/tesla-battery-emissions-study-fake-news/>

EEA. "EEA report confirms: electric cars are better for climate and air quality." European Environment Agency. European Union, 22 Nov. 2018. Web. 18 Jul. 2019. <https://www.eea.europa.eu/highlights/eea-report-confirms-electric-cars>

Gabbatiss, J. "Electric vehicles already able to cut greenhouse gas emissions by half." The Independent. ESI Media, 7 Sep. 2018. Web. 18 Jul. 2019. <https://www.independent.co.uk/environment/electric-cars-vehicles-greenhouse-gas-emissions-climate-change-co2-a8528006.html>

Nealer, R., Reichmuth, D., Anair, D. Cleaner Cars from Cradle to Grave: How Electric Cars Beat Gasoline Cars on Lifetime Global Warming Emissions. Cambridge: Union of Concerned Scientists, 2015.

 

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