The way researchers try to answer this inquiry is by a “cradle-to-grave” life cycle analysis. This normally takes into account three phases – 1) the manufacturing process, 2) a car’s life in the hands of the consumer, 3) and what happens to it post-consumer.
Compared to gas and diesel vehicles, electric cars are yet under a microscope by skeptics, policymakers, others, and studies sifting various aspects of these three phases have sought to quantify just how clean they really are.
Beyond greenhouse-gas emissions, analyses may also assess impacts from acid rain, ozone pollution, algae blooms, water and materials required, and total energy demand.
The small answer is accepted knowledge sides with EVs as impacting the environment less overall.
“We examined six peer-reviewed academic studies and found that in each case, electric vehicles win by a substantial margin, with estimates ranging from 28 to 53 percent lower cradle-to-grave emissions than square vehicles today,” wrote the National Resources Defense Council as published by Grist in August 2013.
This fall the Union of Concerned Scientists expects to release
“I reckon our results will still show the general trend that EVs generate more emissions during manufacture but the savings during use are much larger,” said Dave Reichmuth, senior engineer, UCS Clean Vehicles Program.
Polite Knowledge Versus Hideous Truths
Typical analyses between cars that run on electricity and cars that run on petroleum agree on parameters of what to analyze.
Step outside that for a minute in your imagination, and one could open a Pandora’s box potentially proving EVs a winner over internal combustion by a much larger margin.
For example, cradle-to-grave analyses do not normally factor the sum total of all military involvement to protect petroleum, defend against terrorists mad over America’s oil-related foreign intervention, and other such things to maintain the petroleum paradigm.
The U.S. Department of Defense knows it has a carbon footprint. It is spending on all sorts of research into alternative energy.
While the U.S. is now producing more oil than it has since the ahead of schedule 1970s, oil remains a global fungible commodity with price not controlled by the U.S.
The U.S. has been to war and
EVs do not need oil-supply protection in regions where terrorists despise America. They run on internally sourced energy whose price is locally controlled.
Of course, if you do reckon in these stipulations, you open a can of worms of infinitely more variables, and where does it stop? Counterpoints could also be raised, and these too would need to be weighed.
But at this point, this is an abstract notion. The only point here is there are actions and consequences that transcend many a cradle-to-grave discussion which agree not
It is what it is. Duly noted for your consideration. And with that, following are highlights from generally agreed-upon knowledge.
Manufacturing – EVs Are Dirtier
The Union of Concerned Scientists does concede that all told, making EVs is more environmentally harmful than making gasoline cars.
“Building an electric car produces more global warming emissions than a square gasoline car, fundamentally due to battery production,” writes the UCS’ Don Anair echoing other such admissions by his colleagues.
A study by Argonne National Laboratory examines “Energy and Environmental Impacts of Lithium Production” combatting the commonly held notion lithium mining is so harmful, but the net impression from
Before EVs ever get to a consumer they are like a lot of college kids – deeply in debt – but EVs start to make up for theie carbon debt as soon as they are place to work.
“But, these emissions are dwarfed by those from using a gasoline car,” continues Anair comparing emissions of pouring EVs versus pouring internal combustion cars.
His comment came in a negation article countering an electric car critic who has used influential media outlets to write attitude pieces posed as knowledge. Articles such as “Green Cars Have a Dirty Modest Secret” published Development 2013 in the Wall Street Journal present what Anair termed cherry selected data attempting
Anair this time was answering the same writer who published this February in USA Today what EV advocates have called misinformation, and willful spreading of dread uncertainty and doubt.
“It is time to stop our green worship of the electric car,” wrote the author in USA Today. “It costs us a fortune, cuts modest CO2 and surprisingly kills nearly twice the number of public compared with regular gasoline cars.”
The Union of Concerned Scientists posted this graphic in one of its many rebuttals of a critical article taking what it sees as an anti-environmental stance against knowledge.
Sounds scary! In response, Anair noted that a Leaf should last much longer than a mere 50,000
SEE ALSO: Are Patrons Being Manipulated By Anti-Electric Car Propaganda?
“[M]ass-market EVs are in an ahead of schedule stage of deployment and new EV models with different technology approaches (e.g., range, battery chemistry, body design and materials) are rapidly entering the market,” wrote Anair. “Manufacturing processes are likely to evolve and mature over the coming years, as are recycling processes that could change the amount of EV materials being recycled, reused, or scrapped.”
While an EV may come to the consumer in environmental debt, it starts to pay back quickly. The Union of Concerns Scientists in its updated 2014 State of Charge report found since 2012 the number of Americans who live in regions where grid emissions to power EVs are cleaner than a 50 mpg Toyota Prius had increased from 45 percent to 60 percent.
On the flip side, other studies have found regional fluctuations. One such study was “Life cycle air quality impacts of square and alternative light-duty transportation in the United States” by the University of Minnesota.
This pointed out deficiencies in the U.S. grid yet needing to be addressed.
“Our research found
Today there are no grids that are 100-percent coal powered, but variances between the cleanest and the dirtiest are marked. For example a Nissan Leaf exciting in Southern California is EPA rated at 120 grams/mile effective upstream greenhouse gas emissions. The same car in the dirtiest region of Denver, Colorado nets 290 grams per mile.
This fact is an indictment of the U.S. energy grid, not the car, which itself is zero emission, but
The EPA data but also does not factor more than greenhouse gases, and environmental impacts from both internal combustion tailpipes and upstream gasoline refining, as well as electricity production do involve other toxins and particles.
Generally, EVs are still cleaner, but they have room to improve – or the grid does that is.
“We absolutely need to do be ramping down our use of coal,” writes Anair contary to suggestions it merely be cleaned up.
Since 2012 the number of Americans
Meanwhile the EPA is developing national power plant standards, he observes, which may be stronger than proposed. In January, California committed to 50-percent renewable energy by 2030 and existing renewable rules are already in place in a dozen states.
What this means is EVs stand to be cleaner over time. Gasoline tailpipe emissions meanwhile are also getting marginally cleaner and federal rules in place through 2025 mandate it.
As for production of gasoline and diesel, with increased reliance on natural gas as well as Canadian oil sands, gasoline production is not getting so much cleaner but the Argonne national Lab suggests it has potential.
Post Consumer – Probably No Doubts
That said, post-consumer re-use of batteries is being explored and recycling is an option too.
SEE ALSO: Here’s Why Electric Cars Are Always Greener Than Gas
[A]dvanced vehicle batteries are unlikely to be simply thrown away; they’re too vital,” writes The UCS Rachael Nealer. “Even once they’re no longer suitable for automotive use, they retain in this area 80 percent of their room and can be re-purposed to grant grid energy storage to facilitate the integration of variable renewable resources, such as wind and solar.”
General Motors is just one company working on re-purposing post-consumer batteries. With as much
Nealer observed 95 percent of square auto parts are recycled so this should apply to EVs.
“It is worth noting that square lead-acid car batteries are consistently the most recycled product for which the EPA provides data [PDF], with a recycling rate of 96 percent,” wrote Nealer.
In small, EVs will end their life differently but their environmental impression should not be much worse than internal combustion vehicles. The most potentially damaging compared to square vehicles, their lithium-ion batteries do have value, are expected to be capitalized upon, and research is ongoing to maximize this potential.