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Electric Cars

How Much CO2 Do Electric Cars Produce

We have all seen advertisements on television claiming that electric cars are battery powered, hence are considered “Zero Emission”. This is an ingenious strategy major companies follow to sell their products to the large scale public.

Not only is it entirely wrong, it is also quite possible that electric cars are worse than gasoline powered cars when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions on the long run. 

In fact, the widely used term “Zero Emission” is misleading that it’s not a surprise so many companies manage to get away using it.

Everything aside, the main focus of the hour is “How much CO2 do Electric Cars produce?

The answer to this question is that electric cars do produce a significant amount of CO2 and according to research conducted by a Swedish Environment Institute, the most CO2 emitted at one time in the life of an electric car is 17.5 tons and this is only to manufacture the battery of the car.

So let’s take a look at how much CO2 electric cars produce during their life span and I’ll explain a few points to help minimize these emissions in the long run.

How Much CO2 Do Electric Cars Produce

Though your electric car may not require gas to work, there are chances that it will still utilize energy produced by burning fossil fuels. Depending on how your regional power-grid is producing electricity, your e-car may be just as harmful to the environment as a conventional gasoline car.

In states like California that are large producers of sustainable energy, owning an electric car will be a better choice than a hybrid. Whereas if you’re residing in the South where electricity is generated using carbon based fuels, you will actually be promoting higher CO2 emissions. 

There are a couple of factors that have to be considered before you can actually understand how much CO2 electric cars produce:

  • How Much CO2 is Produced While Manufacturing an Electric Car?
  • Recharging your Car’s Battery: Cause of CO2 emissions or a Solution?
  • How are Electric Car Batteries Disposed of?
  • What Happens to Your Tires after they’re worn out?

How Much CO2 is Produced While Manufacturing an Electric Car?

How Much CO2 Do Electric Cars Produce

It’s important to note that during the manufacturing process of an electric car there is a significant amount of greenhouse gases that are released into the atmosphere. This is a result of the fossil fuels and rare earth elements used during this process.

  • During the manufacture process many rare earth elements like Cobalt, Nickel and Lithium are extracted, refined and manufactured into many components that will later be assembled into an electric car. 

According to Union of Concerned Scientists and the data compiled by the Swedish Environment Institute, the total carbon emitted a the time of manufacturing an electric car is 17.5 tons.

Why is this?

Well it’s mainly because electric cars have to store their energy in something equally large, like a high-capacity battery pack and the bigger the battery pack the higher the carbon emissions. 

How Much CO2 is Produced While Manufacturing an Electric Car?
  • This happens because big battery packs are made from large quantities of rare earth elements that are mined from beneath the earth. This mining process produces acid waste and radioactive residue which are not always disposed of appropriately. 
  • The manufacture of the batteries also involves refining these elements into a form best suited for a battery and there’s waste generated during this process as well. 
  • CO2 emissions during the manufacturing process also depends on which state the manufacturing plant is located in and what forms of energy are used to produce electricity to power the plant.

Recharging your Car’s Battery: Cause of CO2 emissions or a Solution?

How Much CO2 is Produced While Manufacturing an Electric Car?

At the moment, recharging your electric car will cause more CO2 emissions than act as a solution to the current problem. The amount of CO2 that is released into the environment every time you charge your car’s battery varies significantly depending on the actual source of the current and how it was produced. 

  • A power-grid normally runs on fossil fuels and unless you’re recharging your battery from a sustainable green energy source, you’re doing way more damage to the environment than a gasoline powered car.

According the a report authored by Brandon Schottle and Michael Sivak, an electric car that is recharged by a coal-powered electricity plant will produce as much CO2 as a 29 miles per gallon gasoline car. 

  • In America, solar, wind and geothermal energy perform far better than coal and other fossil fuels but unfortunately nearly 64% of the electricity produced in America is from fossil fuels and natural gas.
How Much CO2 do Electric Cars Produce
  • During the lifetime of your car’s battery, you would have released more CO2 without realizing it than those pesky gasoline cars, thus contributing more to global warming.
  • Until the entire power grid gets an upgrade and our electricity is generated in an environmentally friendly way, electric cars will be far from being considered “zero emission vehicles”. 

Now this may take some time and is not something that’s fiction, in fact some countries in Europe are depending solely on renewable sources of energy allowing them to be considered green cities as they have a very low carbon footprint. America is far from that but we’re heading in the right direction.

How are Electric Car Batteries Disposed of?

How Much CO2 do Electric Cars Produce

In the traditional sense, car batteries which are the typical lead-acid batteries are recycled within the U.S. This process is easy as it’s a composition of various fossil fuels and can ultimately be reused and recycled. 

  • The case with electric car batteries is not the same, electric car batteries are made from Lithium-ion and a composition of chemicals that deem them unfit to be recycled. 
  • Lithium–ion batteries for electric cars are either burned or dumped in a landfill at the end of their life and this process definitely does not make electric cars greener for the environment. 

What we have to take into consideration is that if there is no proper battery disposal technique in place we’re going to end up having more carbon emissions than we can handle. Dumping batteries in a landfill is not only bad for the environment but even bad for us. When these chemicals seep through the ground and enter our water supply, who knows what’s to come. 

Another great concept would be to find a way to have these Lithium-ion batteries recycled or given a second life. This will help cut down the number of batteries already in circulation and until we can figure out a permanent and Eco-friendly solution to the disposal of batteries we have to do the best with what we can and not damage the environment any more than we already have.

Tire Wear Pollution: What Happens to Your Car Tires as they Wear Out?

How Much CO2 do Electric Cars Produce

What we don’t take into mind is that rubber tires tend to release particulate matter into the environment as they wear out. Harmful particles from the heavy-duty rubber tires used are a growing problem and with larger vehicles such as trucks and electric cars that use extremely heavy batteries, more rubber is being used on their tires to withstand the load.

  • Though CO2 emissions are regulated everywhere and we know just what damage is being done, the particulate emissions from rubber tires are not regulated thus leading to higher ‘non-exhaust emissions’ in electric cars.

As compared with the regulated limit of 8 milligrams per mile of CO2 exhaust emission, rubber tires generally emit more by a factor of 1000. As noted by Emission Analytics, conditions of the road, tire inflation and budget of the tires contribute to the overall particulate emission as the tires wear out. 

Electric car tires release something called non-exhaust emissions or NEE, the complete life cycle of a rubber tire is what has a great impact on the environment. Tires that are not recycled are either dumped or burned, this is a real problem for the environment as substantial pollutants are released into the air and ground. The more tires there are in circulation the more NEE and damage is done.

Recycling and Re-Purposing Tires

How Much CO2 do Electric Cars Produce

Tires are one of those few things that can be recycled and used in the manufacturing process of other products. This can reduce the load of tires being dumped in landfills and ultimately reduce the amount of heavy metals and pollutants that are released into the ground and water. 

Tires can be repurposed to be used alternatively, making a table or set of chairs from used tires is one way you can re-purpose your old tires. Repurposed tires can be used as an affordable alternative construction material and can be used to make sustainable housing. 

Conclusion

From this it is possible to understand just how non Eco-Friendly electric cars truly are. Though there are no CO2 emissions from their tail pipes, electric cars do produce a substantial amount of CO2 during their lifetime. 

Maybe the world is just not ready for electric modes of transportation, maybe we are ready for it and only time can tell. Till then  it’s best we resort to public modes of transportation until technology advances to the point where we do not rely on fossil fuels or rare earth elements for the production and upkeep of an electric car.

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Carbon Footprint of Electric Cars vs Gasoline Cars

Humans have been so focused on moving forward, we have forgotten to look back at all the destruction we have done. Global Warming is one of the biggest foes we have created that threatens us. The main cause, excessive Greenhouse gas emission.

The buzz around electric cars is that they have a lower carbon footprint since they are zero-emission vehicles. This means that they are environmentally better suited than traditional gasoline-driven cars. Nothing is as simple as that though since different factors affect carbon footprint.

The main question at hand is, which has a lower carbon footprint, Electric Cars or Gasoline Cars?

Electric cars have lower emissions and during their entire life cycle they leave behind a lower carbon footprint per car on the road. Though they have pretty much the same manufacturing process as gasoline cars, they use an alternate source of fuel, they use recyclable batteries which can be re-used a number of times and they don’t release harmful CO2 when in use. Stats show that driving an electric car yields more miles per gallon than gasoline cars at an estimated increase of 73 mpg for electric cars.

To understand, we need to know:  

  • What is a Carbon Footprint?  
  • How do Cars Increase their Carbon Footprint?  
Electric CarsGasoline Cars
ProductionCarbon footprint due to production is around 15-68% higher. The issue is here is in producing the batteries, which are larger and inefficient to manufacture.Due to efficiency in manufacturing process, gasoline cars require less energy to produce, reducing their carbon footprint.
Energy source/FuelThe cleaner the source of electricity the lower the carbon footprint. So, depends on the region of the world.Fuel requires energy to be extracted but generally better in this regard if electric cars use fossil fuel electricity.
Emission when drivingElectric cars have no emissions and this makes them the obvious choice in this regard. Making the environment friendly and efficient.The emission from gasoline cars is probably the single biggest reason that prompted research in electric cars. They are considered harmful for the same reason.
BatteryThe batteries in electric cars are recyclable and reusable which reduce carbon footprint in the long run.Lead-acid batteries found in gasoline cars are less efficient compared to lithium ones found in their competitors. The batteries are recycled but not reused.

Carbon Footprint of Electric Cars vs Gasoline Cars

With the technology of electric cars still in its infancy, I figured it would be useful to you if I break down the differences between Electric Cars and Gasoline cars in terms of their carbon footprint and emissions released by them. This will help you decide on whether you should go in for an Electric car or one of the Gasoline cars.

What is Carbon Footprint?  

Carbon Footprint of Electric Cars vs Gasoline Cars

Carbon footprint is the total amount of greenhouse gases released by an individual, a product, an organization or a country. Carbon footprint is expressed in Carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2eq). Carbon footprint is measured in tons of CO2 released per year. For other greenhouse gases, its supplemented in tons of CO2-equivalent gases.  

Carbon footprint is hard to measure for a single activity. For example, cooking a meal releases a certain amount of carbon footprint. But food arrives from a farm and maintaining a farm has a high carbon footprint which is not taken into account. That’s why taking carbon footprint on a large scale is a more credible way to measure CO2 emissions.  

Carbon footprint is the total amount of greenhouse gases released by an individual, a product, an organization or a country. 

Carbon Footprint of cars 

Almost everything we do is directly related to the emission of greenhouse gases. And one of the most significant sources of greenhouse gases is the use of automobiles. Conventional vehicles burn fuel to produce energy which makes the vehicle run. This process has disadvantages because of emissions from the tailpipe.   

Conventional (gasoline) car emits:  

  • Burning of the fuel lets out Nitrogen oxides. 
  • Carbon and hydrogen react to form harmful hydrocarbons. 
  • Carbon monoxide emission. 
  • And smoke because of foreign particles in the process. 

These emissions are mainly greenhouse gases and pollutants. They increase the carbon footprint, pollute the air and trap heat resulting in global warming. And this is just the emission from the engine of the car and we have to consider the production of a car.

Production of cars require energy, and we rely a lot on burning fossil fuels for energy. Extracting these fuels also require energy leading to higher carbon footprints. 

In the case of electric cars, they run on electricity, this allows them to run clean and emission-free. But manufacturing them requires energy, so this also comes under their carbon footprint. Then the electricity used to run them is not always clean and increases carbon footprint. Burning of fossil fuels is a significant source of energy.

So electric cars running on their energy are the cause of these emissions. In countries which are mostly powered by clean renewable energy, electric cars are the obvious choice.  

Comparison between Electric cars and Gasoline cars 

From their birth (production) to their death (recycling), cars cause emissions all through their lifetime. So, let us take a deeper dive: 

Production:  

Carbon Footprint of Electric Cars vs Gasoline Cars

One might think that since electric and gasoline cars look similar in size, they require the same amount of energy to be built. But it is not the case since the engines and batteries are vastly different. Different manufacturing processes and the energy required to produce, vary a lot.  

  • Surprisingly, the production of an electric car has a higher carbon footprint than conventional cars. Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) have estimated that electric cars cause 15%-68% more emissions compared to gasoline-powered ones.  
  • Some of this boils down to requiring more energy in the manufacturing process. But the most significant outlier is the batteries in electric cars. Electric cars use lithium-ion cells compared to lead-acid ones found in gasoline cars. Lithium-ion batteries are harder to produce. And in the process, a lot more energy is spent compared to lead-acid ones.  
  • Over the years, manufacturing of gasoline-powered cars has refined and become efficient. Gasoline-powered cars trump electric ones in this area. But it is not all doom and gloom in this regard for electric cars. Manufacturers are moving to cleaner ways of production. This will only reduce the carbon footprint when it comes to producing an electric over time.  

Since electric car batteries are the outliers, companies are doing their best to get them at a lower carbon footprint. Volkswagen and LG Chem (supplier of batteries for Volkswagen) have an agreement, that the latter should only produce batteries from environmentally friendly sources. Tesla intends its production unit in Nevada to run on renewable sources of energy in the future.

Tesla and BMW are active in battery recycling programs. This helps in the reduction of carbon footprint. And finally increasing energy density of these batteries could reduce emissions by 49% reported by The International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT). 

Energy source/Fuel:  

Carbon Footprint of Electric Cars vs Gasoline Cars

Electrics cars are regularly charged to run, and this requires electricity. Electricity production is a cause of emission depending on the way its obtained. This makes an electric car responsible for the carbon footprint of the source of electricity.

  • So, if the electricity used is produced from fossil fuels, then the car is responsible for the emissions. But if the electricity is from clean sources, emissions from these sources for far lower.
Carbon Footprint of Electric Cars vs Gasoline Cars
  • Therefore, on a per car basis, the carbon footprint in electric cars is lower compared to gasoline cars. This gives electric cars an advantage in almost all parts of the world.

Since countries are moving towards cleaner forms of energy production. Extracting fuel requires energy and increases the carbon footprint of gasoline cars. 

Driving: 

Carbon Footprint of Electric Cars vs Gasoline Cars

Electric cars produce zero-emission to run since they don’t burn any fuel. In this regard, there’s no competition at all.

  • In 2018, a US research found out that driving an electric car yields 80 miles per gallon(mpg) of fuel.
  • An average car running on gasoline in 2017 only yielded 24.9 mpg of fuel.

This was an increase from 2017’s estimate of 73 mpg for electric cars. The reason being the move renewable sources of energy in the US. 

Battery disposal: 

Carbon Footprint of Electric Cars vs Gasoline Cars

Batteries of cars contain harmful chemicals and need proper and safe disposal.

  • Gasoline car batteries are dismantled and recycled for use elsewhere.
  • Electric vehicle batteries are recycled or reused as backup power in many places.

This makes them better than the batteries found in their counterparts.  

Conclusion:   

Electric cars lose out on gasoline-powered cars only when it comes to the production of the vehicles. But, considering all factors, electric cars produce lower emissions over their lifetime.

Researchers have found that electric cars in countries like Sweden and France have 70% less carbon footprint than gasoline cars. This is because of their reliability in clean energy. And in the UK its 30%. In countries like Poland, coal power plants are the main source of energy and so electric cars may have a higher carbon footprint. 

In conclusion, Electric cars are more efficient and have lower carbon footprint in 95% of the world.

This paints a picture that the emissions from electric cars are directly related to the energy source itself. With countries moving to cleaner sources of energy, the carbon footprint of electric cars is only going to reduce.  

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