One fallacy that keeps being repeated by electric car naysayers is the belief that EVs, due to the materials and energy that goes into building them, are not nearly as ‘clean’ as electric vehicle supporters claim. That argument might keep cropping up mainly as a knee-jerk reaction to hearing EVs constantly referred to as ‘zero-emissions’ vehicles (as opposed to ‘zero-emissions at the point of use’ vehicles), but for whatever reason, it’s one of those electric car myths that seems to get around.
Obviously there is a carbon footprint associated with building an EV, just as with every other product, and charging one also generates additional carbon emissions (although the amount varies widely by region, due to differing energy sources for electricity production), so any claims of being ‘zero-emissions’ is a bit of a misnomer.
However, a recent EV lifecycle analysis by the Union of Concerned Scientists has put that the myth the test and found that determined that electric car greenhouse gas emissions are just half of the amount of that of a gas-powered car over the course of its life.
“Manufacturing a mid-sized EV with an 84-mile range results in about 15 percent more emissions than manufacturing an equivalent gasoline vehicle. For larger, longer-range EVs that travel more than 250 miles per charge, the manufacturing emissions can be as much as 68 percent higher.
These differences change as soon as the cars are driven. EVs are powered by electricity, which is generally a cleaner energy source than gasoline. Battery electric cars make up for their higher manufacturing emissions within eighteen months of driving—shorter range models can offset the extra emissions within 6 months—and continue to outperform gasoline cars until the end of their lives.”
The conclusion of the report, Cleaner Cars from Cradle to Grave (PDF), is that EVs are already cleaner to drive, and are getting even cleaner, due to both advancements in EV and battery technology as well as increased amounts of renewable electricity on the grid. However, the report also suggests that in order for EVs to hit their full potential, they must “account for a larger share of vehicle sales while the electricity grid shifts from coal to low-carbon renewable sources,” and that moving both of these energy and transportation transitions forward will constitute “a critical strategy for cutting projected oil use in half over the next 20 years” as well as contributing toward getting the US “on a trajectory toward net-zero climate emissions by mid-century.”
Learn more at the Union of Concerned Scientists.