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Carbon Footprint of Electric Cars vs Gasoline cars

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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