The ‘electric cars aren’t green’ myth debunked

Electric cars green myth

It’s time to bust this thing wide open.

‘Electric cars aren’t green’ is a great bit of counter-intuitive headline bait, but it’s bad maths.  This is how the argument goes, again and again…

Electric cars have higher manufacturing emissions than normal cars.  Electric cars also use electricity that has its own footprint.  And put together these two factors are a ‘dirty little secret‘ that negate any climate benefit of electric cars!

No.  Let’s clear this thing up once and for all.

It’s all about the juice

One of the most irritating things about articles discussing electric car emissions is the way it’s always very black and white.  In one corner you have the ‘zero emissions’ brigade and in the other the ‘worse than combustion engine’ crew.

But as ever, real life comes in shades of grey.

The reality is that even after you account for the bigger manufacturing footprint of an electric car it is all about the fuel mix of the power you use, the ‘juice’ if you will.

Using coal powered electricity electric cars do nothing to cut emissions, using natural gas electricity they’re like a top hybrid and using low carbon power they result in less than half the total emissions of the best combustion vehicle, manufacturing included.

In our recent study ‘Shades of Green: Electric Cars’ Carbon Emissions Around the Globe‘ we calculated grid powered electric car emissions in twenty countries. But we actually had data for quite a few more countries we didn’t include.

So let’s break out the data and put this thing to rest.

Mapping electric car emissions

The following map compares the carbon footprint of electric driving using average grid electricity in 40 or so countries.  The actual carbon intensity of electricity you use may differ from the national average for a number of reasons, but it’s a great starting point.

The results are shown in terms of grams of equivalent carbon dioxide per vehicle kilometer (g CO2e/km).  Each estimate includes emissions from vehicle manufacturing, power station combustion, upstream fuel production and grid losses.

The specs are based on a full electric vehicle, similar to a Nissan Leaf, using the 2009 average fuel mix in each country.  For each country vehicle manufacturing emissions are assumed to be 70g CO2e/km, based on a number of studies detailed in the report.

EV emissions by countryClick image to expand

Of the 40 countries covered in this map emissions vary from 70g CO2e/km in hydro loving Paraguay, up to a 370g CO2e/km in heavy coal using India.  The US average is 202g CO2e/km, in China it’s 258g and in Canada 115g.

In Paraguay virtually all the emissions are from vehicle manufacturing, as the power is incredibly low carbon.  Whereas in India the breakdown is 70g for vehicle manufacturing, 200g from power plants, 30g for fuel production and a whopping 70g for grid losses.

The colors in the legend split the countries into five different groups based on carbon intensity.  As you can see, even after vehicle manufacturing is included the carbon intensity of driving an electric car varies 5 fold based on the juice.

For a bit of reference, the average American gasoline vehicle is up at about 300g CO2e/km, while a new hybrid might manage 180g CO2e/km after you include vehicle manufacturing, fuel combustion and fuel production.

Compared to combustion vehicles

Because grams per kilometer is such a funny metric it is nice to convert these results to something more familiar.  Working backwards from the data we can estimate what type of conventional vehicle (if any) would produce similar emissions.

For want of a better phrase lets call this the ‘Emissions equivalent petrol car’.

EV emissions equivalent

Click image to expand.

Now the figures are much easier to get a grip on.

In coal heavy India, China, Australia and South Africa electric cars using grid power are just like typical gasoline vehicles, in the 25-30 MPGUS range.  In the UK, Germany, Japan and Italy they are as good as the best petrol hybrids, in the 45-50 MPGUS range. But in low carbon supply places like France, Brazil, Switzerland and Norway they are in a different league, averaging well beyond 100 MPGUS for equivalent emissions.

It is important to remember that the electricity you get might not match your national average for any number of reasons.  The night time intensity might vary, you might have solar panels or live in a country like the US, where the grid is actually a bunch of separate grids.  For example in Colorado a grid powered electric car is equivalent to about 30 MPGUS, whereas in California it’s up around 70 MPGUS.

For all the comparisons in this map the vehicle manufacturing of a gasoline car is just 40g CO2e/km compared to 70g CO2e/km for the electric vehicle.  This is because we have accounted for both a greater manufacturing footprint and lower lifetime mileage in an electric car.

If you are interested in the detail check out the full report.  It includes a breakdown of all figures, sensitivities to manufacturing, vehicle performance and comparisons to diesel vehicles.

Electric cars are as green as their juice

Critics of electric cars love to talk about manufacturing emissions and putting horses before carts.  But they never seem to offer any better solutions.  If they were waxing lyrical about urban densification, electrified public transport and the joys of bicycles their critiques would ring true, but that’s not what you hear.

Electric cars are relatively new at a commercial scale and are dealing with issues of cost, range and charging speed.  Each of which will be helped by improving batteries.  Despite this they offer enormous hope for reducing carbon emissions, improving local air quality and limiting noise pollution.

Electric cars are far from perfect, and there are plenty of valid ways to critique them.  But let’s not pretend that a gasoline vehicle can compete with an electric car in terms of carbon emissions.  It’s just not a contest.

Give an electric car the right juice and it crushes combustion engines.


Download the report here: Shades of Green 

Author’s note: in case you are wondering, I don’t own an electric car. We have an efficient Skoda diesel which is mostly used at weekends with 4 people in it.  My preferred mode of transport is my old dutch bike, which in terms of gCO2e/km trashes all comers (foodprint included).

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  • Parax

    Emissions are not just CO2, It would be good to include CO, O3, NOx, THC, PM10 in Emissions discussions also and contrast Street Level Emissions verses Grid Emission and its impact on Public Health.

    • Lindsay Wilson

      So true. To much for me to get into hear I’m afraid. Also particularly important when assessing the benefits of diesel cars in Europe. Generally an argument for electric cars, particularly in cities. Although with the wrong power source this again creates problems:

    • Kevin Jackson

      Hey! Screw you, I live in the country. Moving your pollution from the city to where I live is BS. Why should I die from power plant emissions in order to save someone in the city? You are the one that wants to drive around in the city, keep your pollution to yourself.

      • Parax

        It’s your choose to live next to a power plant. #SameArgument

        In many big us cities the power plants are in the city (power where it’s needed).

        However, powerplants are much better at filtering emissions than vehicles, electrostatic precipitaters and gaseous capture work well at large scale whereas filters on vehicles are rubbish. Powerplants also discharge gases at a far higher altitude giving better dispersal and so nowhere near the concentrations of pollutions you would find at a large interstate interchange (note that interstates run through the country too). go look at the pollution charts near power plants.. they are mere fractions of the levels you find on busy junctions (city or country).

        Finally are you familiar with the Trolley Problem?

        • Kevin Jackson

          I am now, thank you.
          Unlike happenstance, coincidence or chance, we are actively planning where to send the Trolleys.
          Please don’t send anymore Trolleys my way.

        • Kevin Jackson

          I assume you are in the “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one” philosophical camp.
          The issue I have, in this instance, is “the many” created the problem.
          To me it is analogous to a group that are hungry but don’t feel like going to the grocery store, so they just kill and eat one of the group. In this way the “needs of the many” are satisfied.
          I don’t like that plan, whether I am the one eaten or not. I think “the many” need to resolve their problems themselves.

          • Parax

            ["the many" created the problem.] Yes! but it is a problem for all, not just for some! So what is your solution?

            Mine is that the many need to switch to greener electricity from renewable clean sources. and emission free vehicles so our kids don’t get sick. I opt for an EV, for solar panels, and a clean energy supplier – that is all I can do physically, but I also vote for government that intends to stop taking the easy route of building coal stations and start taking the harder choices for cleaner future. (I chose to do these other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard. – and they are the right thing to do not just for my future but for everyone’s future.)

            If you want to see why power plants are cleaner than cars, have a read of this DoE website which explains sulphate scrubbing, NOx clean burners and catalysts.


            (note some cars have catalysts for NOx but don’t scrub any Sulphates from the exhaust fumes.)

            and if you want to get into the CO2 debate, have a read up on carbon sequestration.


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  • Craig Wolfe

    Lindsay – All of your data and and all of your writing are very helpful. I will keep pushing you out there. Concert for the Climate Guy.

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  • Mike Speck

    Great info Lindsay. Appreciate the clear concise comparisons. One thing though. Do you have any data on the effect on the environment of the spent Lithium ion batteries once the cars are “put out to pasture?”

    • Lindsay Wilson

      Sorry, had missed this. I’m not really to sure about this stuff. I know that the batteries can be used in lower grade situations when they are no good for cars anymore, but not too knowledgeable on the recycling front

    • Randy

      In Japan or Australia (maybe both, i cant really remember) a bunch of old EV batteries were recently put into service as grid storage. They will operate for many more years until they are too old to be effective anymore. They will then be recycled, with over 90% of the materials being reused (generally stuff like the plastic casings in the batteries is not recycled because it isnt cost effective from the company’s standpoint). Tesla Motors plans to integrate battery recycling into their battery manufacturing plant, where the batteries will be made into new batteries.

      Currently 96% of a lead acid battery is recycled. A battery that weighs 10x or more and is more valuable (still worth over a thousand dollars at the end of life in the vehicle) will surely be recycled, especially since the batteries can not be removed easily…

      The batteries should last a long time, as long as a car today is expected to last. In 10 years, a battery replacement for a Nissan Leaf should only cost 2 or 3 thousand dollars and the car should keep on going. Unlike in a conventional ICEV, not much can go wrong in an EV. So EVs should last much longer.

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  • Esther C

    I understand that the source of our electricity determines the emissions from driving EVs.

    But I think that in order to approximate the environmental impact from manufacturing, we need to know: where/how is the lithium (and other minerals and metals) mined, is it shipped elsewhere for battery assembly, and then is the battery shipped again somewhere for vehicle assembly?

    Consumers need to be able to estimate the overall impact. Just because I live in Vancouver, and ultimately driving an EV is very clean (we are essentially 100% hydro electric) — I can’t use your “made in Canada” electricity stats to calculate environmental impact from manufacturing.

    Is there a list, anywhere, of EV cars and where the batteries are made and cars assembled – that might provide a somewhat accurate estimate?


    • Lindsay Wilson

      Links to the three studies I used to reference the manufacturing emissions are in the report. At the end of the day vehicles have a global supply chain. Lithium comes from Chile, Australia, China . . but the primary driver of emissions is process not transport. Here’s the study: I’m not aware of a list of assembly locations, though it may exist

    • Randy

      Nissan leaf battery and car is made in Tennessee (some battery materials come from Japan, a lot of Leaf materials come from Japan)

      Tesla Model S battery cells are made in Japan, packaged in California, and majority of the car’s components are North American (Canada or USA) and the car is made in California

      Volt battery is made in Michigan. Car is built in MI. I think some cell material comes from Korea, not sure.

      I think that the new Smart EV is different, but I believe last one was made in France and the battery cells made in Japan, assembled in France, probably…

      Most lithium comes from South America. There is only about 9 pounds of lithium in the Leaf. As far as I know, there is only one lithium production operation in the United States. I dont think there is any production/mining in Canada, not sure…

      A gasoline vehicle has a lot of heavy medals, expensive metals (like platinum), and rear earth elements. These often come from China. The Model S and Chevy Spark EV do not use rear earth elements (although the touch screens may have some in it, if it is capacitive, then likely does)

      The batteries are fully recyclable and will likely be used in NA for grid storage after the battery is replaced. Then the batteries will be recycled into new batteries.

      EVs dont require transmissions, emissions equipment, ICEs, oil changes, filters, and many other bits. That is a LOT of savings. Lithium does not make up much of the battery. Over the life of the battery, it would take many times more (think over 100x) motor oil to run a conventional ICEV than it would take lithium to make that EV battery… And that battery will be reused then recycled.

  • Ricardo Fraguas

    Thank you very much, Lindsay. It is very clear. More than ever, let’s generate clean energy at home, let’s push the eradication of fossil fuel use for energy production and promote renewables. when driving, let’s drive electric.

    Best R.

  • gasdive

    You’ve included the CO2 generated in the manufacture of the electricity when you compare petrol cars with electric. Why then have you not included the electricity required for the extraction, transport, refining, transport and dispensing of petrol for petrol cars? Given the revolting stuff that crude oil is and the lovely clear pure liquid that petrol is, it’s got to have a fair bit of processing. Paper which is just wood ground up with water and then rolled flat uses 7 kWh/kg. The lowest plastic is twice that. So conservatively 7 kWh/litre (a bit less than a kg so slightly more than paper and much less than plastic). The Leaf has a 24 kWh battery that takes it 160 km. My petrol car uses 16 litres of fuel to cover the same distance. That’s 112 kWh of electricity to refine (ignoring extraction and distribution) the petrol to cover the same distance that the leaf covers on 24 kWh. To say as you do: “Using coal powered electricity electric cars do nothing to cut emissions” is simply, and obviously wrong. If you include the extraction (from some miles down) and the various pumping that occurs into and out of tanks or through many km of pipeline, (much of it as very viscous crude) then you’re even *more* wrong.

    • Lindsay Wilson

      I do the full life cycle for both. It’s all shown in more detail in the study

    • Randy

      It depends on the oil, but I read that the best “conventional oil” has about 7kWh of electricity in it per gallon of gas, while the worst case scenario, tar sands oil, is about 22kWh per gallon of gasoline. But its hard to find good sources for the amount of electricity it takes to refine and transport oil and its fuels…

      • Lindsay Wilson

        The figures in the report are made using conventional oil. If you add in the amount of tar sands oil the equivalent MPG figure jumps by 3 in the US

    • Lindsay Wilson

      I have included the full lifecycle for both the gasoline and electricity pathways. Please see the report

      • gasdive

        I read the full report. You use the figure of 0.46 kg of CO2 per litre of fuel production and distribution. You keep that as a fixed level for all fuel production regardless of where it’s refined. I’d suggest that 0.46 kg of CO2 per litre is far too low. Your figures are that in India 300 g of CO2 is emitted to make 211Wh of wall electricity. So you’re saying that to make a litre of petrol in India requires less than 324 Wh electricity. I say “less than” as there are other carbon emissions related to fuel refining that are not electrical in nature. Can you point to *anything* that would indicate the amount of electricity required to refine and distribute fuel is so low? It’s hard to say for sure as the oil companies are very coy about revealing the amount of electricity it takes to refine fuel. However figures are available for other products. Paper takes 7kWh/kg which is about 20 times more than your figures for Indian fuel production. Plastics like PVC (more similar to petrol than paper) has about 21 kWh/kg or about 65 times more than your estimate. I’d have to guess that fuels come somewhere between paper (ground up wood soaked in water and rolled flat) and PVC. I’ve worked in an oil refinery and while I wasn’t privy to the amount of electricity it used, the power lines that came into the plant were huge high voltage transmission lines bigger than the ones that serve large towns. I feel the figures you’ve used (which admittedly were not yours) are absurd. The Fawley refinery in the UK has it’s own power plant with a capacity of 135 MW. They don’t use it to toast chip butties.

        • Lindsay Wilson

          I’m using figures based on meta studies of numerous lifecycle analyses across different countries. Yes, these figures will vary across refineries and countries, but the variation isn’t too large. I can’t see the point in using kWh metrics when a whole literature of lifecycle analysis is available. So many of the energy inputs are non-electric

          • gasdive

            I’m not following how you can have a whole essay on how the amount of carbon emitted by an electric car varies depending on which country it’s in but you then say of carbon emitted due to the electric inputs into oil refining (at least 50% as large as the electric inputs into electric cars but more likely more than 100%) the “variation isn’t too large”. I agree with you that “many of the energy inputs [to oil refining] are non-electric” but just the electric ones *alone* are at least a sizeable fraction of the electricity used for electric cars. I’m not sure how to phrase it differently and I’m just repeating myself now. “Petrol cars use at least 50% as much but quite likely much more electricity than electric cars”. If you’re going to count the CO2 used in the production of electricity for electric cars, you should count the CO2 used in the production of electricity to make petrol. Your figures appear to show the CO2 released directly during the refinement of oil but neglect the CO2 produced to make the electricity used to refine the oil. Randy’s figures below of 7 kWh/gallon (we can assume US gallon given him calling it “gas”) equates to around 2 kWh/litre. For a country using coal that’s about 2 kg of CO2/litre of fuel, 4-5 times your estimate of 0.46kg/l.

            Looked at another way, the 2 kWh needed to make a litre of petrol will run an electric car about 10 km. That’s about the same as the distance a litre of petrol will drive a car. So no matter how much carbon is needed to make the electricity, the petrol car will be at least the tailpipe emissions worse than the electric. That’s even before you add in the 0.46 kg of non-electric inputs.

            I agree whole heartedly with your website, what you’re doing, how you’re going about it. The only detail I disagree with is that you’re far too soft on the emissions from refining petrol for petrol cars.

          • Lindsay Wilson

            I take your point about the variation that would result from differing locations of refining, that’s fine. My point is simply that when I looked at a whole number of upstream lifecycle analysis for gasonline from DEFRA, LBNL, EPA . . . there wasn’t much variation in the figures. My understanding for that is that many of the inputs are for extraction, or not electric, and that the refining variation isn’t too great. From what I could see much more variation resulted from whether it was conventional or tar sands oil. When I see multiple lifecycle analysis from different independent government bodies around the world in close alignment I’m not going to spend my time deconstructing them

          • Lindsay Wilson

            I looked a little more, it seems that majority of refining energy inputs are non-electric by products of refining, eg gas and coke. That may explain why I found limited variation

          • gasdive

            I’m going to split some hairs, please don’t take it as a critique. I just want to nail down the figures.

            I now get what you mean. Given that most of the CO2 generated from refining a constant, coming as it does from the oil that’s being refined, the differences between locations should not be *as* important as they are for electric cars.

            I’ve read through the link you provided but I can’t find a point where they talk about imported electricity. I can see at the end where they say gasoline has 20g of CO2 emission per MJ well to pump (fig 4) which equates to about 0.6-0.7kgCO2/litre of petrol.

            During the introduction it says that 80% of the energy required for refining comes from the feed stock. The 20% remaining is 4-7 times more than the figures that you’ve found in the paper. It also says that oil refining consumes 7% of the total energy budget of the USA. So the electricity consumption should be 20% of 7% of the total US energy consumption. Yes?

            Current US energy consumption is 25 155 TWh (2009). 25155×0.2×0.07 is 352 TWh or 3.5×10^14 Wh. The USA consumes about 5×10^11 litres of fuel per year. 700 Wh per litre.

            So for fuel refined in India or Australia that’s 995 g of CO2 per litre in *addition* to the 700 g per litre that comes from using feedstock to drive the refining. Wow, the CO2 released by making the fuel is twice the weight of the fuel!

            When it comes down to it I’m nit picking.

          • Lindsay Wilson

            There are some bizarre assumptions in there. I’ve seen refining emissions figures from 5-13 g CO2/MJ. The variation is not coming from electricity, it is coming from flaring practices and efficiency. For example Fawley refining emissions are 10% lower than Coryton largely due to the CHP at Fawley. Flaring practices (or lack of) are a big deal

          • gasdive

            I’m clearly not explaining myself clearly. Here’s someone else’s explanation

          • Lindsay Wilson

            I’ve given concrete data from proper studies, this is just so waffley. It varies from place to place but generally such a large chunk comes from their own plant, using the gas from the fuel itself. That’s why the figure are far more consistent than people expect

          • gasdive

            Hmm, I took the figures and studies you used and calculated 995g CO2 per litre of fuel made and you considered the assumptions “bizarre”. I didn’t make any assumptions, I calculated based on *your figures* and showed my calculations. (much less CO2 than any back-of-the-envelope comparison with similar industrial process would indicate) It seemed you weren’t following the calculations and thought I was assuming things. So I linked to a simple explanation. Which is that when you actually go to an oil refinery there are giant power cables feeding the plant. Then it’s “waffley”. The long and short of it is that if you actually visit oil refineries (as I have) you’ll find that vast amounts of externally supplied electricity are consumed in the refining process. True, some plants generate on site from gas. That gas could have otherwise been used for load matching in an electricity system that has a high percentage of renewables. So not only is that electricity not being used for normal electrical tasks, it’s worse. It’s being wasted on this rather than allowing a stable grid that has very high renewables. We’re going to need that desperately if we’re going to transition off the system where we just generate enough coal power to cover peaks in demand and throw the unused power away at times of less than peak demand as happens now. So the situation is that the electric vehicles use off peak power from coal that would otherwise be generated and *thrown away*. By using power that would have been thrown away in any case, they add no “extra” CO2 to the atmosphere. In contrast petrol vehicles use electricity that could have been used to manage peaks. Without that demand power available, much more electricity has to be actually produced beyond the electricity that’s consumed in the production of the petrol.

            While some plants use the gas, other plants either flare it away or use it in other products and bring coal fired electricity in to run the plant. That’s what the plant I worked at did. It seems that’s what the plant that Robert Llewellen visited did too.

          • Lindsay Wilson

            Fair enough, I was a little loose with my wording. If you recall I did actually go back a dig into the numbers a little more based on your concerns. In the figure I checked the vast volume of electricity being used was generated from the oil itself (in the 90% range I think). That was in the US. Then I checked some UK figures for three refineries and they were all in the ballpark of my figures. I don’t know what more I can do. I do think it is an interesting point you have, but I really couldn’t find much fault in my data and I compared it to many different sources. I would have changed it if I did. No offense intended. Lindsay

          • Lindsay Wilson

            Oh, and the question of how the electricity of EVs matches the average grid is a really big one I’ve had many discussions about since publication. Some people tell me that it is electricity that would have been wasted elsewhere, thus EVs can improve intensity by manage load. Others insist EVs are adding to the grid and hence should only have the intensity of the load following sources. Obviously its mixed. Personally I think managed well they could be a god send for the grid and renewables . .

          • gasdive

            I think you’ve done a great job. I said that at the start and I still think that. I also think that the oil companies are a bit strangely coy about the actual consumption. Figures seem a bit odd and they’re not keen to clear them up. Does “onsite” generation count or not. It’s not immediately clear to me if it should or not. It’s not clear if onsite generation is or isn’t included in the figures that do exist. The refinery I worked at abandoned onsite generation as they could buy coal fired electricity cheaper than they could make it themselves. That’s not going to be the case everywhere.

      • guest

        I agree with your approach and that is how it should be looked at. pls share the report.

      • gasdive

        Lets look at it another way. The Fawley Oil Refinery has it’s own power plant that makes 135 MW. That’s 1.1×10^12 Wh per year. Divide by 211 gives you the number of electric car km that it could charge. It’s 5.6×10^9 km. The average car in England drives 8200 miles or 13000 km. That means that the power station that refines oil could if used to power electric cars instead cover the needs for about 400 000 electric cars.

        It produces a million gallons of motor spirit per day. At 20 mpg that’s enough to cover the needs of just under 900 000 petrol cars.

        So looked at that way, if you assign any CO2 to electric cars you really should assign at *least* 50% of that figure to petrol cars on top of their tailpipe emissions. If you do that you can’t say that in the worst countries the CO2 emission of an electric is similar to a standard car because the electricity used to refine the fuel for the standard car has itself emitted far more CO2.

        • Randy

          Over a third of a barrel of oil goes to things other than fuel though…

          • Stephen Garner

            yes, but 90% of oil is burned.

    • Krez

      Since you’re pointing out that the study did not include the emissions related to petroleum extraction and refining, do you think the manufacture figure for electric vehicles includes the mining and refining of heavy earth metals for batteries? I’d be interested to see any estimates of the emissions related to that process.

      Disclaimer – I didn’t read the full report…

      • gasdive

        Much fuss is made of the rare earth Niobium magnets in the electric motors. In actual fact the main use of Niobium is not magnets for motors but steel for petrol cars. Battery chemistry varies, the cells in my Zero electric bike are actually non toxic and don’t contain any heavy metals at all. The article you linked to contained a factual error in nearly every single line and deliberate muddling in the remaining ones. Refuting everything would take pages, but it’s basically twaddle. I’m not the first to think that about the author of that article. Though the Ministry later quashed the findings, the Danish Committees on Scientific Dishonesty cited him for

        Fabrication of data;
        Selective discarding of unwanted results (selective citation);
        Deliberately misleading use of statistical methods;
        Distorted interpretation of conclusions;
        Deliberate misinterpretation of others’ results.

    • sundayDX .

      and how about taking into account rare metal extration in your battery content… ? Transformation and transportation techniques for that highly reactive metal? You can’t get away with your electric car, in this battery, there is… plastic…

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  • guest

    It all depends on what is the source of electricity and what is the boundary/scope.
    If we talk about the total life cycle impact of an electric car it will not be as green as we think. Of course if the electricity is generated using renewable energy sources then the impact will be much less.
    The answer lies in the tapping the solar energy which is the ultimate source of energy in the universe.

    • Randy

      Geothermal and nuclear power both use non-solar energy. And the sun is only good at giving our solar system energy, not the whole universe… But EVs are the best vehicles on the road.

  • Randy

    Using coal powered electricity electric cars do nothing to cut emissions, using natural gas electricity they’re like a top hybrid and using low carbon power they result in less than half the total emissions of the best combustion vehicle, manufacturing included.

    STRONGLY disagree. They DO cut emissions. An EV in the US on 100% coal still puts out less CO2 per mile than the average car, for one. Two, you are ONLY looking at MPG. If a large city goes electric, then the smog problem likely disappears with the ICE. No more oil spills. No more gasoline is spilled at the gas station every day. There are a LOT of benefits to EVs. The grid is getting cleaner, oil is getting dirtier as we head toward oils like tar sands. And countries with high levels of coal usage have low emissions standards on cars. This means an EV will save a lot of smog and other non-CO2 emissions.

    This is because we have accounted for both a greater manufacturing footprint and lower lifetime mileage in an electric car.

    That makes no sense. EVs are virtually zero maintenance and can last MUCH longer than an ICEV. The battery may be replaced in over a decade, which should increase range significantly, last longer, and the car will keep on going. The batteries are fully recyclable and can be reused for grid storage. EVs should last LONGER than ICEV.

    • Lindsay Wilson

      Please click through to the report. The production of EV batteries is hugely carbon intensive using current practices. This may improve in the future, but its just a fact, verified by endless studies

      • Randy

        The “and lower lifetime mileage in an electric car.” was what i was strongly disagreeing with.

        • Lindsay Wilson

          This is a standard assumption for these studies. If you want to assume longer lifetime milege you then have to account for the manufacturing footprint of a replacement battery, or a much bigger battery (tesla)

          • Randy

            The cars will not be scrapped when the battery is replaced. That battery will be reused then recycled too. EVs should last longer because they do not have all the complex internal combustion engine bits that start going bad.

          • Lindsay Wilson

            Sure. But the new battery has a footprint of about 5t CO2. Hopefully this will get better with the likes of tesla going after their manufacture

          • Randy

            And that battery will have a full life, either as a source of energy for the car, or as storage for something else.

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  • lauralouise90

    I’m so glad you’ve wrote this – I’m pretty on the fence when it comes to electric cars or standard battery cars but it does frustrate me how both parties are very black and white in why their way is better…. nothing is ever black or white, the very nature in how people drive is different so emissions for example will always vary from person to person!

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  • JakoAnoniman

    While this CO2 newspeak is all so amusing, could someone please explain why a new battery for a Nissan Leaf costs me (and the unsuspecting tax payers) US$100 per month of a battery replacement program, which is equivalent to 700 miles or so in a normal car, charging not included. It runs for only ~50,000 miles between changes, if you are gentle on the pedal.
    The paper cited in your report says that “Li-ion battery plays a minor role in the assessment of the environmental burden of E-Mobility”, but at battery cost this high … not so much. It is comparable to the fuel cost for the same mileage, yet without recharging.
    CO2 or not, money-wise your calculation sucks. Big time.

  • ManaMoffa

    It doesn’t matter what the power plant uses to produce it’s energy.
    Electric energy is lost in it’s transfer , making the entire processes wasteful
    You’d have to produce your own electric energy via solar and wind to make it “green”
    Just as important, regardless of how much gas you use in your hybrid, costs are not reduced when you include your electric bill.

    • Keith D.

      That’s not even close to true.

      • Vance Morgan

        Except, for the fact that it is absolutely true. “Greenies” and climate alarmists have substantially larger carbon footprints than the average person that drives an SUV every day.

        • Thats..

          ..a stupendous generalisation to claim with no sources or even further detail. So vague, in fact, that it couldn’t possibly be true itself.

    • ThisNameInUse

      “Electric energy is lost in it’s (sic) transfer , making the entire processes wasteful”

      Ooh, I see what you did there. You highlighted the fact that no process of energy transformation is lossless, while cleverly dancing past the much bigger factor involved. Which is that electric motors are much more efficient at turning the battery’s stored electrical energy into kinetic (movement) than ICE’s are at turning the chemical energy in gasoline into kinetic energy. That’s where EVs make their efficiency gains.

      Your check from the Koch Brothers should be in the mail by morning. I think you also get partisan political points for the comment, assuming you vote with the party that has an intravenous feed of cash coming in from the oil & gas industry. That would be the GOP, in case you’re not aware. $26 million and counting in this 2014 election cycle alone.

      Well done!

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  • Scott Dee

    The Earth and ourselves are pretty much hosed in the near future.
    No government is acting with due respect for the present situation.
    Since underdeveloped countries will be the first to suffer famine in the next few decades, it could easily be construed a humanitarian crisis sufficient to start a war-
    to curtail emissions globally and save a large amount of humanity.
    We in our country will see it through our grandchildren’s eyes…

  • James Shirley

    Very thorough report, however Nissan has its own ‘unbiased?’ report pegging the Nissan Leaf at 40% less C02 than a comparable petrol car (in Japan).

    Your report stats its 0% in Japan, both at 175g C02/km?

    I haven’t read the details however though it worth a mention…

    • Lindsay Wilson

      No real contradiction I can see. They are comparing to a comparable petrol car in the same class (not a top hybrid). Also the Japanese grid has become more carbon intensive lately with nuclear closures. Finally it looks like the use 100,000 km for both vehicles, whereas I assume the EV does fewer than the petrol or needs a replacement battery (upping the manufacturing footprint)

  • Kevin Jackson

    It is very well established now that: electric cars that run off coal based electricity are roughly equivalent to a small, economical gasoline powered car; an electric car that runs off natural gas based electricity is roughly equivalent to a hybrid; and an electric car that runs off a solar panel is almost totally clean.

    That being so, I am sick of hearing “Zero Emissions”, it is just not true.

    • ThisNameInUse

      Man, you beat the heck out of that strawman. Where did you get him? Can I get one like him? I’d love to punch at something that can’t punch back and then feel really big.

  • Kevin Jackson

    This article didn’t debunk anything.

    I am really tired of misleading headlines.

    • Lindsay Wilson

      It’s a response to the ‘Dirty little secret’ myth, best articulated by the Lomborg article linked to at the start of the article. It tackles the realistic stats on manufacturing and power emissions. Clearly the headline is fishing for attention, but I would argue it does do some serious debunking of those two persistent myths about EV emissions

  • litesp33d

    But what about the biggest cost to running any car that kicks the other calculations out of the arena. The one everyone ignores when doing these calculations. DEPRECIATION.

  • Michael

    I don’t like thinking complicated about things. To me it doesn’t make much sense to charge batteries of electric cars when not even 10% of the US electricity is “green”. Why don’t you first make the grid green and THEN think about electric cars? It would be much better if people would drive less in more fuel efficient cars. And consume less. Keeping all these trucks on the road is part of the economy (well, until we change something) but it won’t help reducing CO2.
    Back to the cars: Am I missing something by thinking that it would be more efficient to use green power for the electrical grid instead of electric cars?

    • ThisNameInUse

      You’re putting the cart before the horse. I put my house on wind energy credits, so it is driving more turbines to be installed. That will be my “juice” after we buy an EV.

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  • georgevoll22

    “Give an electric car the right juice and it crushes combustion engines.” Give a diesel the right fuel and it will crush an electric, give a gas vehicle the right fuel and it will crush the electrics.

  • falstaff77

    ‘Electric cars have higher manufacturing emissions than normal cars.Read more at

    Several of your posts/articles *assert* this is the case, but I don’t see anything reference/data behind it. Yes the battery requires mfn energy that a combustion vehicle does not require, but then the CV requires water/oil/fuel pumps, fuel/oil filter, exhaust system, 250 kg engine block with hundreds of components, firewall, starter battery, starter motor, 4 or 5 gear transmission, large cooling system (100 kw at least), differential, oil/fuel tanks, on and on.

    I’d be surprised if EV’s came out 10% more energy expensive, instead of less, to make, but double? Nah.

    • Lindsay Wilson

      Hawkins was updated with a corregendum after a lot of valid critiques, I used their updated figure. I don’t necessarily assume the vehicle will only do 150,000 km necessarily. But the per/km runs about the same with a replacement batter at 150, then lasting till 250. I’ve read a lot more studies than the three I quoted in the report and I was very comfortable with my assumptions. In most cases the EV without battery manufacturing emissions easily eclipse the standard drive train, despite the seemingly simple setup. I do however expect it to come down in the future and for the batteries to have an afterlife. Hence the inclusion of the sensitivities. Lindsay

      • falstaff77

        “In most cases the EV without battery manufacturing emissions easily eclipse the standard drive train, “

        Emissions based on what driver then? Take away the battery, the e-motor, and the vehicle is no longer an EV. How can the chassis (?) have more emissions for mfn than a loaded traditional combustion drive train? Low mfn volume for the existing EV models?

  • DJ

    Ya the battery is shipped to and from 6-10 nations on a freightliner. It only lasts 5-10 years if you don’t use the right pedal, and it’s almost entirely made of plastic (petroleum?). So it pollutes like crazy when it’s made, it pollutes like crazy when it’s shipped, and it pollutes the worst after it dies and is buried. Green movement = the new home for extreme socialism.

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  • Bill Williams

    •2.4 pounds
    of CO2 are produced with each gallon
    of gasoline refined.

    pounds of CO2 are produced when each refined gallon of
    gas is burned.

    •A total
    of 21.4 pounds of CO2 are released into the atmosphere for every
    gallon of gas consumed.

    the gas must be shipped and driven to the pumps everywhere!

    is already delivered to more places than gasoline.

    gallon of crude oil contains about 38.6 kWh (132,000 BTU).

    •A gallon of gasoline
    contains about
    33.7 kWh (115,000

    5 kWh are lost in the refining process.

    average of 4 miles or more per kWh is common among EVs.

    motors are over 90% efficient.

    combustion engines are only 25-30% efficient, the remaining energy is lost
    mostly to heat.

  • RB

    Its always so convenient that the folks who go to such great lengths to write stuff like this leave out the footprint size of the ship that brings the cars half way around the planet from where they are built. Sure, the largest one on the planet can haul around 3000 cars at a time…but they go no more than 5 INCHES for every gallon of petrol they consume. Given that, my 20 year old gas guzzling F-250 that was shipped to a dealer on a train 1500 miles away still has a much smaller lifetime “carbon footprint” than any of these so-called green cars. I’d be willing to bet none of them will still be on the road in 20 years, which means yet another whole car made and delivered to replace it….while the F-250 plugs on endlessly….

    • Lindsay Wilson

      Container emission are 0.015 kg CO2e/ So even if you are shipping one from from Japan to the US it is just a month or two’s driving emissions, it barely figures. Container shipping is a comically low carbon way to move anything. 100 times lower carbon than air freight and 10-20 times lower than trucks. What does a F-250 get, 15 MPG? That’s 5t for each 10,000 miles, almost enough to cover the manufacturing (an shipping) of something that can do 50 MPG. But hey, the real green vehicles are bicycles. Even EVs can’t touch them

  • Gregg Hardy

    Hi Linsday, thanks for putting this analysis together. I was just having this debate in Portland, Oregon with some colleagues over a beer. I had speculated that the manufacturing emissions were about 5 tons, so I’m glad to get sourced data from this report.

    Figure 1.2 is clear to me, but I get a bit lost in Figures 2.1 and 2.3. In figure 2.1, I’m used to MPG indicating fuel consumption only, but I assume that the values in 2.1 include manufacturing emissions based on your discussion of Paraguay below the figure. The figure might be more clear if you state that it factors mfg emissions in the discription of the figure.

    I’m a bit lost with Fig 2.3. I was expecting to see a breakdown of gCO2e/km for a petrol equivalent of the Lief (e.g. Honda Fit in the US), but it appears to be a chart that shows how you might map petrol emissions against the total gCO2e/km calculated for electric vehicles.

    Given that petrol has about the same gCO2e/km in all geographies (I think), the chart I would like to see is Figure 1.2 with the addition of a Honda Fit reflecting actual mfg emissions (40 gCO2e/km) plus actual emissions from petrol per km. Then one could make a direct comparison in a single figure.

    I hope my feedback is clear. Pardon me if you have already responded to this feedback below. I haven’t read all of the comments.

    With respect and gratitude for your work,

    Gregg Hardy

    • Lindsay Wilson

      It’s been a while ;-) 2.1 and 2.3 are the same data really. 2.3 shows how its breaksdown of 2.1 essentially. All figures in the whole report include manfacturing, combustion and fuel production, to make it a full comparison. The labelling would indeed have been better. If you are interested in the fit just got to the comparison of energy use later in the report with the performance of the fit.

      I use the MPG equivalent so people can see how electrics compare against different petrol vehicles and good hybrids at around 50 MPG. It is similar to how the Union of Concerned Scientists displayed their numbers but I include manufacturing. They have state based emissions for the US, Portland should look pretty tidy with all that hydro?!

  • dlylis

    There are a three sides to this discussion. First, we have the footprint generated by the manufacture of the vehicle. Second, we have the footprint of the owner of the vehicle, and third we have the footprint of the vehicle itself. When I discuss this subject I most often discuss this from the standpoint of the vehicle owner as the argument is usually centered around an individuals ability to lessen his or her individual carbon footprint.

    Each is obviously tied to the footprint of the manufacture of the vehicle. The reason I have segmented this discussion is that the subject often comes up that the footprint of the manufacture of an electric vehicle is larger than the footprint of an internal combustion vehicle.

    The most confusing part of this discussion is the footprint of the owner of the vehicle.

    Lets look at it from this standpoint. Generally speaking, it has been said that the manufacture of the vehicle represents 28% of the total footprint of the vehicle (and this is very important), over a 100 thousand mile life of the vehicle. This is arguable, but for the moment, let us accept it.

    Now, let us take a vehicle owner who buys an electric vehicle, drives it 20,000 miles and trades it in for a new one. That an electric vehicle is going back to the market with low mileage is highly likely given the limited driving range, and the limitations in recharging. The footprint of the manufacture of the vehicle is being amortized over a much lower mileage meaning that the vehicle may be green, but the owner is very much not. In fact, he or she may be better off driving a 5.0 liter Mustang for 15 years. :)

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