Electric cars cause more pollution than petrol cars? Unthinkable! Everyone loves the electric car, even polar bears. Eco-friendly stalwarts have struggled through the teething technical problems faced by electric car owners to support the budding technology while local governments have begun the lengthy process of fitting parking lots with outlets for recharging what is generally seen as the cars of the future. Now a new study is claiming that the electric car produces far more pollution than its gas-guzzling counterparts.
It’s not the cars themselves that are the culprits, it’s the pollution caused by the production of energy that fuels them that’s to blame. The study took place in 34 Chinese cities where the emissions from the production of electricity to drive electrical cars outweighed the emissions by petrol-powered cars.
Researchers Shunguang Ji and Chris Cherry chose China as the basis for their study as electrical powered vehicles and bikes outnumber gas-powered vehicles two to one there. Before you petrol-heads start to celebrate, it’s important to note that 85% of electrical production in China comes from fossil fuels and 90% of that from coal power stations. In countries with cleaner electricity sources, the electrical car can still be cleaner than petrol-fueled vehicles. Cherry, an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Tennessee stated; “An implicit assumption has been that air quality and health impacts are lower for electric vehicles than for conventional vehicles. Our findings challenge that by comparing what is emitted by vehicle use to what people are actually exposed to.”
In the US, carbon emissions from vehicles account for 20% of greenhouse gas emissions. The production of electricity results in an average of 590g of greenhouse gas emissions per kilo-watt hour, much lower than that of China. Emissions levels vary considerably from state to state for example in North Dakota, it’s as high as 1 000g/kWh and as low as 15g/kWh in Vermont. Still, taken at an average of 590g/kWh, electric cars still produce 20 to 30% fewer emissions than gas-powered cars.
A pervasive urban legend also claims that the Lithium-iron-phosphate batteries used in some models of electric cars cause major damage to the environment through production and disposal. Lithium-iron-phosphate batteries are a common option used to store the power that keeps electric cars running. These batteries generally have a lifespan of around 10 years and 96 percent of the materials in a li-on battery can be recycled, provided the vehicle owner disposes of it in a responsible manner. A study of the li-on battery found that the environmental impact of creating the batteries only accounted for 15% of the total environmental impact of the car. The extraction of the lithium is only 2.3% with the rest made up by the extraction of the copper and aluminum used for anodes, cathodes and cabling. This makes the electric car a viable alternative to cars powered by fossil fuels in countries with cleaner energy production.
In countries, like China, where fossil fuels are used to generate electricity, buying an electric car is definitely putting the cart before the horse. As technological progress makes electrical cars more efficient, and renewable energy contributes more and more to national power production, the value of the electrical car as an emissions buster will increase.