Electric cars beat diesel in lifecycle analysis

A lifecycle analysis of electric cars shows that they emit less greenhouse gases than conventional diesel vehicles, even when powered by the most carbon-intensive electricity in Europe. The demand for critical metals will also go down as the industry continues to innovate.

Critics of electric cars like to point out that the electricity used to power electric cars comes from polluting fossil fuel sources, or that the production of batteries is so environmentally harmful that you might as well drive a petrol or diesel car.

These arguments gained traction earlier this month when Fiat Chrysler Automobiles CEO Sergio Marchionne called electric cars more of a threat than a potential saviour and warned that government action to spur electric car sales prematurely will increase the production of carbon emissions to dangerous levels.

But a new study from the Brussels-based lobby group Transport & Environment (T&E) overturns these arguments. When looking at the entire lifecycle of electric cars – from their manufacture and battery production, through to their overall energy consumption – electric cars emit less than half as many greenhouse gases as diesel vehicles.

“Even when powered by the most carbon intensive electricity in Europe, they emit less greenhouse gases than a conventional diesel vehicle. As more renewable electricity enters the European grid, the climate impact of EV will further diminish,” according to a summary of the study.

Poland and Germany have the highest carbon footprint in their electricity mixes. But even when using the Polish average, an electric vehicle emits 25 per cent less CO2 over its lifetime, while in Sweden an EV emits 85 per cent less.

“Likewise, technological improvement of battery chemistry, the reuse of battery for storage purposes, and the development of a recycling industry for EV batteries will lead to improvements in their sustainability.”

The study also found that the availability of critical metals and rare earth minerals for batteries, such as cobalt and lithium, will not be constrained in the coming decades. The supply of these materials will have to be closely monitored and diversified to avoid being overly dependent on imports, but innovation in the long term will contribute to reduce the quantity of critical metals used in electric vehicles.

To ensure that cleaning up road transport doesn’t come at a high social and environmental price, the EU should foster R&D in electric powertrain and battery technology and developed home-based battery production with high environmental and social standards, concludes the study.


Image credit: byronv2 via Flickr

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