How sustainable are electric vehicles compared to internal combustion engine cars?

Bracing towards a greener future, electric vehicles are performing better by the day and convincing buyers around the world. It sound like the ideal car, it produces no emissions, no exhaust, and it could be the perfect solution for over-polluted cities. So why aren’t they everywhere already?

First reason is because electric cars are expensive. For example one of popular electric car Tesla Model 3 costs about $10,000 more than its internal combustion engine rivals of same size. That’s a real barrier for many.


Second, electric cars do have an environmental impact. Their batteries need lithium, and to extract it, you need a lot of water in the dry climate where its found. Lithium is a rare compound and exists mainly in Australia, Argentina, Chile and Bolivia. Once the metals are extracted, then the cars have to be assembled.

Overall, the steps to build an electric vehicle create about twice as much pollution as they do for an internal combustion car. That’s according to the researchers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.

Even before hitting the road, an electric car therefore already has baggage. You will have to drive 20,000 to 30,000 miles before its carbon footprint equals a new gasoline car.

And what about the electricity that powers the electric vehicles? Where does it come from? From coal, nuclear plant or renewable energy? That can add or reduce electric vehicle’s carbon footprint.

From the beginning of the production to the end of vehicle’s life-cycle, gas and diesel cars emit an average of 140-210 grams of CO2 per kilometer. For electric cars, for example in France, where nuclear energy produces 75 percent of all electricity, that number falls to 15-30 grams of CO2 per kilometer. But in countries where coal is a major portion of total electricity production, it goes back up to 120-140 grams of CO2 per kilometer.

Even when electric cars are most polluting due to coal power plants, the put out less greenhouse gasses than internal combustion vehicles.


But there is one last problem, fine particles! Its been told that electric vehicles don’t emit any, but that’s not true. Sure they don’t come out of the exhaust pipe, but they are byproduct of the car’s mechanics, for example; brakes, tires and asphalt.

And what about those lithium batteries? What happens at the end of their life-cycle? Recycling them is still far too difficult and expensive.

Contact the author: georgeperez@wheelsjoint.com


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