carbon footprint of electric car
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Carbon Footprint of Electric Cars (Are they REALLY Green?)

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Are you wondering about the carbon footprint of electric cars? Their CAR-bon footprint? 🤣 Read on for more than just environmentally dangerous puns!

When it comes to Electric cars, there’s a lot of confusion about their carbon footprint. There are loads of arguments out there that suggest electric vehicles are no better than traditional ones. So, we’re going to look at these arguments and get to the bottom of whether or not electric cars are the greener option.

The quick answer is that, even though electric cars are not a perfect solution, they are, in almost all situations, a better option than a fossil fuel-burning vehicle.

CO2 From Production – What About The Batteries?

When it comes to production, there is just no denying that the production of electric vehicles (EV) releases more CO2 and greenhouse gases than producing a similar model of traditional car. So if you look at the carbon footprint of a brand new car, as it sits on the showroom floor, the EV would have a larger carbon footprint.

This larger footprint is all down to the production of the batteries. It does vary from car to car as the size and type of batteries have a significant impact on the volume of emissions created. The other important factor is that EVs are designed to be much lighter. This means that more process-intensive materials are used in construction.

When it’s all put together, for a midsize car, an EV will have a carbon footprint that is around 15% larger. For an EV with a large battery, the carbon emissions can work out to be as much as 63% higher than an equivalent fuel-driven car. 

While things might be looking dire at this point for electric vehicles, it’s important to note that the manufacturing emissions usually make up as little as 10% of their lifetime emissions for a fuel-driven car. For an EV car, it’s a very different picture. In most cases, these initial emissions comprise between 20-30% of the total emission from that vehicle.

CO2 Produced To Charge Them

One of the things that complicates the issue of an electric car’s carbon footprint is that when, where, and how it’s charged matters a lot. There’s going to be a big difference between a vehicle charged solely using renewable energy and one that gets all its power from fossil fuels.

A woman at a charging station for electric cars

First, let’s consider a realistic scenario. In this case, the car is mostly charged at off-peak times, so it’s using up energy that might otherwise go to waste. The owner also subscribes to a green electricity tariff, so it can be assumed that at least 20% of the energy comes from a low/no emission source. In this situation, the emissions released to charge an electric vehicle are significantly less than are released by a comparable fuel-powered one. The difference in this situation is likely to be around 30% lower. 

In countries where a higher proportion of electricity is produced using renewables, the reduction is much higher. For instance, in Sweden and France, charging an electric car produces 70% fewer emissions than the alternative.

Even if an EV is charged using electricity generated from burning fossil fuels because they are lighter and more efficient vehicles, their emissions per-mile will still be lower. So when it comes to the CO2 produced to charge an electric car, it will almost always be more environmentally friendly to drive an electric vehicle. The only exceptions are countries like Poland, where nearly all electricity is currently produced from burning coal.

Lifetime CO2 Footprint

So, electric cars are worse to make but better to run. The real question then is what happens when you put both parts together. 

When you combine both the emissions from manufacturing and running the car, you find that it is significantly less than a petroleum-powered vehicle’s emissions. The improvement will vary depending on the way the car is fueled and the size of the battery. However, if you average things out, you find that generally speaking, an EV will produce a little over 50% fewer greenhouse gases than a petroleum-powered alternative would. 

Average Lifetime of an Electric Car

Charging electric car

The lifetime of an electric car is very much limited by the battery. With battery technology still emerging and developing, there isn’t yet enough data to give a reliable estimate of how long an electric car will last. 

The only thing to go on is that pretty much all manufacturers are rating their batteries to be good for 100,000 miles. That’s the mileage that is covered by most warranties. This gives you an idea of the minimum distance you can expect. It’s also safe to assume that most will last comfortably beyond this. 

It is important to be aware of what happens to an electric car’s battery at the end of its life. Once a battery has been used and recharged many times, its capacity begins to drop. In terms of your driving experience, this means that you can’t travel as far between charges. Depending on the range and use of a vehicle, it will cease to be useful once it’s at 70-80% of its initial capacity. 

Car batteries are not easy to recycle. There are just no good solutions yet. It is especially complicated by the fact that not all batteries are the same. In the best case, only around 20% of the materials can be retrieved

Some places take these old batteries and make use of them for solar systems. Their capacity is still plenty for this purpose. However, this is not a common occurrence. Generally, this is one of the weakest points in terms of the environmental credentials of electric cars. But, it is an area that people are looking into with hopes of finding better solutions. 

Is It Better To Maintain An Old Car Instead Of Buying A New One?

A lot of fans of old cars will defend their decisions to continue driving gas guzzlers. They say it’s better to run an old car than waste materials on building a new one’. Given that electric vehicles do have a more significant environmental impact when new, this is an argument worth looking at. 

The critical thing to remember about all cars is that most of their environmental impact is caused while you drive. So even if it does have an environmental impact to make a new car, there is almost no situation where it’s better to continue running an older model car instead.

Are Electric Cars A Practical Option?

One of the most significant sticking points people have with electric cars is a concern about the practicality of driving them. As a driver of a Nissan Leaf, I’ll share my experience with you. 

Our Leaf is an early model, so it has a short-range. It’s perfect for running around town and doing the school run. We just plug it in overnight, and it’s good to go in the morning. I wouldn’t want to do a very long drive in it. As it can be a pain to find charging stations. But, when it’s time to replace our bigger car, we intend to get a long-range EV.

It is an adjustment to start driving an electric car, but you soon get used to it. In my experience, it isn’t a big shift.

So Is an Electric Car Really Better For The Environment?

Electric car versus fuel-powered car

In practically all situations, an electric car is the greener option. For the majority of people in the world, an electric vehicle will produce fewer greenhouse emissions.

It is also worth noting that greenhouse gases aren’t the only way classic cars impact the environment. Even when fitted with catalytic converters, fuel-powered cars release pollution. Particulates, carbon monoxide, and other smog-causing byproducts leave from the tailpipes. This means that their presence in our towns and cities diminishes the air quality in those places. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What would happen if everyone switched to electric cars?

If you could snap your fingers and convert every car in America into an EV, then US CO2 emission would drop by a little over 8%. In other countries, the difference would be much larger. It all depends on how the nation produces electricity. 

So, while this is not going to stop climate change, it is a huge step forward. 

Why should we switch to electric cars?

There are two big reasons to switch to electric cars. The first is that they are better for the environment. They, undeniably, have a smaller carbon footprint. The second reason is that in many circumstances they may save you money. Depending on the area you live in, running a car on electricity may be cheaper than running it on petrol or diesel. This is especially true if there are any free charging points nearby.

How much is the cheapest electric car?

The price of electric cars has been coming down for a long time and is continuing to do so. You can find a new EV for as little as $30,000. You can pick up a good quality used EV for somewhere in the range of $15,000.

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