On the surface, it may seem to you that, of course, electric cars are greener because they do not produce any emissions. Unlike gasoline cars, no fossil fuel is burned in its engine. So it is understandable that they will not throw out all kinds of polluting gases from the exhaust pipe such as carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides and unburned hydrocarbons that pollute the atmosphere. Electric cars don’t even have exhaust pipes. But that is not the whole story.
To understand whether they pollute less overall, we have to look at the bigger picture. Do not forget that they consume electricity. Electricity, depending on the fuel source, can produce greenhouse gases.
And don’t forget that manufacturing various vehicle components, such as batteries and other components, also requires energy and resources. Could manufacturing the advanced batteries and other components that go into these cars produce greenhouse gases that offset any potential savings from burning gasoline?
We’ll take a detailed look at all of that and give you a verdict…that’s what happens now. Before we get started, I want to give a big shout out to MagellanTV, our sponsor.
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The climate is changing whether we like it or not. There is some debate about the cause of climate change, but very few people argue that change has occurred.
And anyway, if you look at it, emissions from gasoline-powered vehicles (which are gasoline-powered for some of our international audience) don’t help. These cars pollute, emitting greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide. This is not only bad for the environment but also for your health.
So this is something we should all be very aware of, if we don’t care deeply about it. In this video we will focus on comparing electric cars or EVs to petrol cars. About 70 million new cars and light trucks are sold each year around the world. Although the number of electric vehicles sold is increasing, it is still only around 9% which is a relatively small percentage of the total number.
All in all, there are about one and a quarter billion cars and light trucks in use around the world, and currently about 18 million of them are electric vehicles.
So they make up a very small part of the total number of personal vehicles on the road, only about 1.4%. So 98% or so of the cars and light trucks in the world run on petrol or diesel. To understand why gasoline cars pollute, let’s take a look at how they work. The heart of the engine is the internal combustion engine.
Energy is produced from chemical energy. Very simply, you take some fuel, usually gasoline which is a mixture of different hydrocarbons, the most common being octane and heptane. These molecules react with oxygen from the atmosphere to produce carbon dioxide and water, both greenhouse gases. However, they play different roles. Increased levels of carbon dioxide lead to climate change, while increased levels of water vapor are caused by climate change.
Water vapor is not a problem because the Earth has a very large water cycle due to its vast oceans, and therefore water vapor can be easily recycled or absorbed. At a given average temperature, the average levels of water vapor in the atmosphere remain relatively constant because water condenses and rains out of the atmosphere.
The main issue is carbon dioxide. There are other secondary pollutants as well. Not only are pollutants and greenhouse gases produced, but the four-stroke internal combustion engine is generally quite inefficient.
There are 4 cycles or strokes involved in the combustion process. You will notice that power is only produced in one of the four strokes of the engine cycle. So we’ve expended energy during 3 of those 4 strokes, taking in air and fuel, compressing that mixture, expelling exhaust gases, without getting any energy out of those 3 cycles. Instead, we lose energy in these processes through friction, heat, and kinetic energy.
Additionally, there are energy losses in the transmission system which converts energy from the linear motion of your cylinder to the rotational motion of your tires.
As a result, only about 20-35% of the energy from fuel combustion actually ends up turning the wheels. This is not a very efficient way to drive the car. In contrast, in electric vehicles, about 75-85% of the electrical energy is actually used to propel the vehicle. How much do petrol cars pollute then? Well, it depends on the car, of course.
But on average worldwide, a petrol-powered car emits 202 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometer driven. The question is how does this compare to an all-electric car? Well, the number on average worldwide, when factoring in the CO2 generated from the electricity generated needed to charge an EV battery is 83 grams of CO2 per kilometer driven. That’s a difference of 119 grams if carbon dioxide is in favor of electric cars.
I want to point out that this figure of 83 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometer can vary from about 0 grams in a country like Iceland where all electricity comes from green sources like hydrothermal power, to 187 grams of carbon dioxide in a country like India Where there is a lot of electricity is generated from coal.
So the greenness of electric cars depends in large part on the fuel source for the electricity produced in a particular country. But given that electric cars always produce less CO2 than gasoline-powered vehicles, this should be a big hit, right? Well, not because that’s not the whole picture. To be precise, we have to take into account the carbon dioxide generated during the manufacturing process of electric vehicles, and in particular the resource-intensive battery pack.
The main battery type used in electric vehicles today is the lithium-ion battery.
Mining and refining lithium also consumes a lot of energy and creates a carbon footprint. This must be taken into account. It turns out that it is more expensive and requires more resources and energy to build an electric car than a gasoline car. Producing a typical petrol car produces about 7 tons of CO2, while producing an electric car of similar size produces just over 10 tons.
The difference comes down to the production of batteries, which alone produce about 4-5 tons of carbon dioxide.
Some of this is offset by the fact that it takes less energy to manufacture the rest of the electric car than petrol cars because they are mechanically simpler. But overall, manufacturing electric vehicles still produces about 3 tons, or 43% more, of carbon dioxide.
So, what this means is that electric cars, although they produce on average 119 grams less CO2 per kilometre, are not greener compared to petrol cars from day one, when considering that they have a carbon footprint Much larger at birth. So we have to think about how long or how many kilometers they will need to drive to compensate for the higher CO2 produced during their production. We can do some simple math to calculate this.
3 tons equal 3 million grams. We divide this by 119 grams per kilometre, and we get 25,210 kilometres. This means that on average, an electric vehicle equals in terms of CO2 output after having traveled 25,210 kilometers which is also 15,665 miles. The distance traveled per year varies greatly in different countries. The average American drives 14,263 miles or about 23,000 kilometers a year, so it may break even after about 13 months.
However, the average Italian only drives 7,700 km a year, so it would take more than 3 years to break even. Prior to this time frame, there is no net carbon dioxide conservation. But experts estimate that the average electric car battery will last at least 200,000 km. Therefore, over the life of the vehicle, in most countries, the electric vehicle will be greener.
Now, there are a few exceptions to this.
There are in fact at least 5 countries where on average EVs will not be greener even over their lifetime. This is because the fuel source for electricity is largely coal or other high carbon dioxide producing sources. These countries are India, Estonia, Poland, the Czech Republic, and Bulgaria. Fossil fuel electricity generators can produce anywhere from 250g CO2/kWh coal when burning diesel to power a generator, and up to 800g CO2/ kWh coal to power a steam engine generator. Cars will generally not be as efficient as generators because generators are always running at their full rpm.
But it probably isn’t much worse than the 400g CO2/kWh of most cars. So in most cases, cars tend to produce more CO2 per kWh, depending on how they generate electricity.
So to know precisely if your electric car will be greener, you need to look at the number of kilometers you drive annually, as well as the fuel source for the electricity you consume wherever you charge your car. So the idea that electric cars are greener in all cases is not entirely accurate. They are not greener than day one, nor are they greener in certain parts of the world.
But having said that, the overall CO2 footprint of electric vehicles under most conditions in most parts of the world is better. And in the cases of the five countries where the situation is not currently better, it is expected to be better in the next 10 to 20 years as those countries shift to greener and more efficient sources of electricity production. Now until now we have been looking at passenger cars, and this is for good reason, as they are the main cause of pollution in the transportation sector.
Passenger cars make up 41% of this segment, which also includes trucks, planes, ships, buses, and other vehicles. All in all, the transportation sector is estimated to be responsible for about 20-30% of all global emissions, so if you multiply 41% by 20-30%, you can estimate that only about 8-12% of all greenhouse gas emissions are due to passenger cars.
Now, you might say that’s not much, and you wouldn’t be wrong. But 8-12% is no small feat. It is the only area where you can make a difference as an individual. Now if we look at the overall picture, you will see that the most significant contributor to global greenhouse gases, at about 40%, comes from electricity and heat production.
Most of this comes from fossil fuels, such as coal, natural gas, and oil products.
Finding more environmentally friendly ways to produce electricity is a topic for another day, but one good alternative in my opinion would be nuclear. I made a video about it here, if you want to know more. In any case, any change in this sector will not happen overnight, and it is largely outside the control of the consumer. But your personal demand and use of electric cars is under your control. They are generally more efficient, with the best electric cars approaching 90% efficiency in terms of the energy actually used to propel the vehicle.
And of course, they don’t have any direct carbon emissions, in CO2 figures it would produce about 19 tons of CO2 over the life of an electric vehicle, but more than 55 tons of CO2 for a gasoline car over its lifetime.
The bottom line is that unless you live in India, Estonia, Poland, the Czech Republic or Bulgaria, you will, on average, be much greener driving an electric car than an equivalent petrol-powered car during its lifespan. This takes into account all the carbon dioxide that was created during the manufacturing process, and in electrical power generation over its life. Now, I would like to tell you that this is not a panacea.
There may be additional issues that we have not addressed.
For example, one problem is that unlike typical 12-volt car batteries, large batteries in electric cars are not currently recycled on a large scale. The recycling rate for 12 volt batteries is about 99% in the United States, so almost all batteries are recycled. On the other hand, lithium batteries from electric vehicles are recycled at a rate of only 5%. So the question is what are we going to do with these batteries at the end of their lives? These batteries are not slim.
It weighs somewhere around 500 kg or 1,000 lbs and could release toxic chemicals if put into a landfill. This isn’t much of a problem now since modern electric cars are relatively new and most haven’t reached the end of their lives. Today’s electric vehicle batteries have an average life expectancy of 10-15 years inside a vehicle.
So what happens 10-15 years from now when it is estimated that there are 145 million electric vehicles on the road, and large numbers begin to reach the end of their lives? They are not currently designed to be easily recycled, but manufacturers are working on it.
One option is to repurpose her. They still retain 75-80% of their energy after the end of their motoring lives. They can be reused as PSUs for 10 years or more. So this might be an option. If they are disposed of, their environmental impact will not be considered in this video.
Finally, there is some concern about whether raw materials such as lithium and cobalt may be limited to manufacturing the expected number of EV batteries in the coming years. This could create geopolitical tensions. So let me finish with the big picture: Over the life of the car, the electric vehicle will be greener in most countries of the world.
They will produce about a third of the amount of greenhouse gases compared to conventional petrol cars. The savings will be greater if we move to greener power generation.
Electric vehicles will not currently be a greener alternative in India, Estonia, Poland, the Czech Republic and Bulgaria. But this is likely to change over the next 10 years or so, as these countries transition to greener fuel sources. Electric vehicle batteries will have an environmental impact unless we can establish a cost-effective and widespread domestic and international recycling programme. Raw material supplies may be limited and we should be aware of its geopolitical impact. There are two other issues with EVs that I didn’t mention such as questionable cold climate performance, long charging times and availability of charging station for long trips.
But I think these are relatively minor issues and will be resolved as electric vehicles improve in future generations, just as the problems of gasoline-engined cars were solved early on. You mentioned that low CO2 electricity generation is directly related to how green your EV is. One way to do that in my opinion is nuclear power that produces little or no carbon dioxide. Be sure to check out my video if you want to learn more, here. If you liked this video, hit the like button and subscribe so that you will be notified the next time I post a new video.
I’ll see you in the next video my friend..
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