Electric cars & pollution: facts and figures

Did you know that electric cars pollute less than ICE cars — even when powered fully with coal? 

A switch from an internal combustion engine car to electric one eliminates all direct emissions of end use. This is a massive benefit for the air quality in large cities.

DQmQSX2AJnFF6cRR4X4hWYCvmRx3SJmgWui7EYudbxnPqda.jpegWe've all seen pictures of smog covered cities with people wearing face masks. Ongoing smog problems are caused mainly by fossil fuels and transportation.

According to the World Health Organization WHO, outdoor air pollution causes 4.2 million premature deaths every year. This means that every 20th fatality is at least partially caused by air pollution.

But are electric cars any better?

One fifth of Europe’s greenhouse gases results from the road transportation sectorTransportation is a field where all consumers can make an impact with their decisions. Long-time goal is to power electric transportation fully with renewables. Coal-powered electric cars are not green, but they surely are a one step closer to a decarbonized world. Investments in lock-in technologies, such as ICE cars, force us to stick with those for decades.

One of the most common arguments against electric cars is that the production results higher emissions than manufacturing internal combustion engine (ICE) cars. Mining and processing lithium and cobalt for batteries causes production processes to have larger environmental impact. However, EVs compensate high production phase emissions with low tailpipe emissions when similar EVs and ICE cars are compared.

Electric cars have heavy batteries and are thus claimed to wear out road surfaces more than conventional, lighter cars. However, the particulates from road surface are different from the ones causing health problems. Small particulates get into lungs and blood stream and basically all of these health threatening particulates come from combustion engines.

Manufacturing emissions must be carefully considered and decreased. For instance, Tesla already recycles all used batteries. When Tesla Model S battery is recycled, at least 70% of the battery materials will be reused. Recycled materials are a one way to decrease the lifecycle emissions of electric vehicles.

The production process of an average EV results 15% more emissions than a production of a gasoline car. However, lifetime emissions of electric vehicles compared to gasoline cars are on average 51% lower.


Figure: World Economic Forum, 2018

Another big factor impacting lifecycle emissions is the location and energy mix used to power electric cars.

Driving an electric car does not produce pipeline emissions, thus a shift from ICE car to EV eliminates all direct emissions of end use. This is extremely beneficial especially in large cities. 

Electrification reduces both ground-level ozone and volatile organic compounds that cause for instance respiratory and lung diseases, and heart problems. And while electric vehicles make some larger particulates detach from the road surface, their environmental impact is marginal compared to that of ICE cars.




Download The EV Disruption, a free e-book to learn more about the positive impacts of cleaner transportation.

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