Electric vehicles are widely known to be the environmentally friendly alternative to internal combustion-based cars. But there are skeptics who argue that EVs actually have a larger carbon footprint than nonelectric vehicles. The argument is that the manufacturing and disposal of vehicle batteries is very carbon intensive. They also point to the reliance on coal to produce the electricity that powers the cars.
These claims have led to multiple studies in the form of life-cycle analyses comparing the amount of greenhouse gases created by the production, use, and disposal of a battery electric vehicle to that associated with a gasoline-powered car of a similar size.
In short, the studies have found that while it is true that the production of a battery electric vehicle results in more emissions than a gasoline-powered one, this difference disappears as the vehicle is driven.
According to a study conducted by the University of Michigan and financed by the Ford Motor Company, the emissions equation evens out in 1.4-1.5 years for sedans, 1.6-1.9 years for S.U.V.s, and about 1.6 years for pickup trucks.
Emissions from driving come from burning gas in the nonelectric vehicles and from the generation of electricity used by the battery-powered cars. In the current average power mix across the U.S., driving an EV results in a 35% reduction in emissions. However, it varies tremendously by location. There are some places with very dirty power and some with very clean power. But of the more than 3,000 counties in the U.S., only 78 end up with higher emissions from electric cars. Of course, as the electric grid gets greener, the advantages of electric cars only become greater.
E.V.s Start With a Bigger Carbon Footprint. But That Doesn’t Last.
Photo, posted May 21, 2022, courtesy of Ivan Radic via Flickr.
Earth Wise is a production of WAMC Northeast Public Radio