Electric Cars: Environmentally Friendly or Unfriendly?
You may have heard conflicting statements tossed around about whether electric cars are more fuel-efficient than conventional cars or not. Adherents like to tout the obvious marketed qualities of these machines: the fact that they don’t burn limited, expensive fossil fuel and emit lung-clenching smog into the atmosphere, burning out the ozone and frying our poor planet.
Critics like to hold the contrarian card and point out that manufacturing demands and the fossil fuels used to produce electricity itself both contribute a fair amount of carbon pollutants of their own to the skies, perhaps even more than that pushed out by a traditional piston-powered car.
So which is it- are electric cars more energy-efficient and better for the environment or not?
Sorry gas-lovers: electric cars really are better for the environment, and release fewer emissions, than a conventional car. In fact, the lifetime emissions for an EV, which include those produced in the mining and manufacturing phases as well as the electricity to run it on the road, are half those of a conventional vehicle.
To understand why this is, let’s take a closer look at the two factors critics of electric cars generally fall back on: manufacturing emission and powerplant emissions.
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Emissions from a vehicle are not produced only when it’s out on the road. They’re also released through the process of manufacturing a vehicle and all its necessary parts. This is true for both electric and conventional vehicles.
Studies have shown that the carbon impact of manufacturing an EV is just under three times that of a piston car. Yes, that’s right- it’s quite a bit bigger. The extra emissions come from the production of the EV battery, with impact on the environment factored all the way back to the mine.
However, as bad as this sounds, the emissions cost of manufacturing a car is still far less than the energy used to run it over its lifespan. By the time an EV is a few years old, the emissions cost of its production is already offset. A conventional car, on the other hand, will produce on average eight times the amount of emissions during its operating years as it did during its production.
Additionally, we now know that EV batteries can be recycled or reused for grid energy storage.
Critics also point out that electricity for electric cars come from powerplants that burn fossil fuels, which create carbon pollutants of their own. The factor they overlook is that power stations are simply more efficient at making power than car engines. They release far less emissions for the power they make than a traditional gas engine does.
Additionally, more and more electricity is coming from renewable fuels. As energy production continues to move in this direction, EV vehicles will be responsible for less and less CO2/km.
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