Electric Cars Do More Harm To The Planet Than Previously Thought

New research suggests that electric cars are not the environmental panacea that they are thought to be. A report from a team at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology claims that the vehicles fail on three fronts: production; charging; and their eventual demise.

The length of the vehicle's life has an impact on its carbon footprint--those with a life of around 200,000 km improve on gas and diesel engines by around 28% and 19% respectively. Halve the mileage, however, and an EV's effectiveness decreases by anything between 9% and 14%. But it is the source of the electricity used for charging the car that is the problem. Using an EV in a country which relies heavily on fossil fuels for its electricity will, unsurprisingly, increase greenhouse gas emissions. Using the car in Europe, however, saw benefits of around 10%, compared to traditional combustion engines.

EV production is, says one of the authors of the report, more environmentally intensive than the traditional automotive industry. Breaking a vehicle up at the end of its life is also more hazardous, as the batteries and motors use toxic materials such as nickel, aluminum, and copper.

[Image via Creative Commons on Flickr]

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  • disigny

    All very true. and an excellent argument in favor of getting busy on Thorium LFTR power plants, the failsafe, green, energy source that cannot blow up, meltdown , or produce unamanageable amounts of radioactive waste.  It gives a million times the energy of a comparable amount f coal.

  • Testicules

    And that is only with the latest battery tech.

    Electrics using conventional batteries (considering weight and efficiency, BEFORE you talk chemical use issues, purely on electricity production) are the single most polluting way to travel known to man.

  • JJM

    This "study" was conducted by people connected to StatOil, the Norwegian state oil company, at an institution heavily subsidized by StatOil. It's hardly surprising that it would be so critically flawed. Specifically:Apples and Oranges. To calculate the materials used by electric cars, they used the metals in industrial sized electric motors and inverters. The motor in the study weighed 1,000 kg, but was compared to the 53 kg motor in a Nissan Leaf. The inverter in the study weighed 36 kg, but the inverter in a Nissan Leaf weighs 6 pounds. The amount of metal in these components was the key factor in the study's declaration that EVs are more harmful.

    Incomplete comparison of fuels. The study neglected to consider the electricity component of gasoline and diesel. The manufacture of a gallon of gasoline needs 5 kW of electricity apart from that which is obtained by from refinery feedstock. The 5 kW per gallon amounts to roughly half of an EV's electricity usage. This critical factor was never included in the study; instead, the study compared an EV's electric use to fossil fuel use without the electricity component embedded in fossil fuel production. As a result, EVs were assigned twice the emissions from electricity generation that they're actually resposible for

    In short, the study was propaganda and garbage.

  • Tim

    People don't realize that nickel, a key component in batteries, is mined in the most environmentally destructive way imaginable. I'm not against the technology, but lets put things in perspective here. 

  • bsw

    toxic materials like copper, nickel, and aluminum! crap I have all those materials all day long in my pocket. what smuck wrote this article. it sounds very similar to an article published that came out a year ago. obviously this is a great example of misinformation being published. so the numbers on a Tesla is less than half of the energy even if you used dirty gasoline to generate the electricity.

  • Joshua John Jackowski

     Nice more ignorance. Copper is heavily toxic, and so are quantities of nickel and aluminum. If you talking about having coins in your pocket all day long well here's the kicker none of the those metals are pure otherwise they would lose their shape. Do you know what battery acid is? No? Very dangerous, not like you can just dump it in your toilet. And about misinformation, your exposed to that all day every day and you more then likely don't even know.