Are Electric Cars REALLY Better for the Environment?


(upbeat music) – [Nolan] Every time we do a video on electric cars, the same debate shows up in my comments. Some people argue that electric vehicles are worse for the environment than internal combustion engines. Others say that EVs are not even close to as bad as internal combustion. I– I don’t know. So, I set out to find out once and for all, are electric vehicles worse for the environment?

What I found genuinely surprised me. A big thanks to Keeps for sponsoring this episode of WheelHouse.

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That’s Support the companies that support Donut and thank you Keeps for supporting this show. In this video, we’re gonna do our best to compare the environmental impact of electric vehicles versus gas-powered ones.

And look, I’m gonna try to be as impartial and unbiased as possible because I am a car boy, I love gas cars and I love electric cars, and I have no agenda to push. I just wanna know what’s true and what’s false, okay? This could’ve easily been an hour long video because honestly, this is a lot more complicated than I initially thought. But, I know you’re busy, you ain’t got time for that, so we’re just gonna look at some facts for both types of vehicles and try to draw a conclusion from that. First, let’s take a look at some ways electric cars are bad for the environment.

And let me tell you, there’s a few. (upbeat music) One of the biggest arguments against electric vehicles is that battery production for an EV is much more detrimental for the environment than the production of internal combustion vehicles.

So, is that true? Uh..

. yes! The initial environmental footprint from current electric vehicle production is greater than production of internal combustion engines. The large batteries EVs use are made with lithium, which, like any raw material, needs to be mined, and the mining process produces lots of greenhouse gases. It’s a problem that’s only going to grow unless the manufacturing process becomes more efficient.

Sales of EVs topped one million per year for the first time in 2017. Some estimates predict that by the year 2030, there will be more than 125 million EVs on the road and those vehicles are gonna need batteries. Needless to say, lithium is in high demand and it all has to come from somewhere. It takes on average about eight to 10 metric tons of CO2 to produce an electric vehicle. That’s a lot.

Obviously, the bigger the battery, the more CO2 it takes to produce it. Some smaller batteries in economy size EVs may take as few as two metric tons to produce but larger EVs with long-rang batteries could be responsible for up to 17 metric tons of CO2 emissions. Good Lord. Conversely, the average production for an internal combustion vehicle produces around seven metric tons of CO2. Why does EV production lead to a bigger environmental footprint?

More than half of the world’s lithium supply comes from the, quote, lithium triangle, an area between Chile, Bolivia and Argentina. In the arid salt-plains of the Atacama desert, high up in the Andes Mountains, workers drill through the crust of the salt to get to the mineral-rich brine below the surface. This process leaches massive amounts of groundwater from the surrounding area, resulting in a decreased water supply and less accessible water for local agriculture.

In a region of Chile called Salar de Atacama, mining companies have used 65% of the region’s water. It takes 750 tons of brine to produce one ton of lithium.

But lithium is just one of the components of a battery, it’s actually a smaller percentage than you might think too, at around six percent. A growing concern surrounds the sourcing of another element used in batteries: cobalt. But the issue is more of an ethical dilemma as some cobalt mines use child labor, which is reprehensible. And then, there’s the problem of recycling these things. The process in which lithium ion batteries are recycled is not at the point it needs to be to deal with the growing number of spent batteries from electric vehicles.

There are plenty of different challenges associated with recycling these batteries. Relatively inane things like storage becomes a huge issue because of the volatility of the elements in a lithium battery. There have already been a number of fires in facilities that process old batteries. Is the number of potentially catastrophic fires and explosions gonna go up as more batteries are stockpiled in the future? It all depends on how quickly the industry evolves to deal with these issues.

The fact of the matter is modern electric vehicle production is in its relative infancy compared to gas engines, so as time goes on and new processes come into play, the environmental impact will get better. I hope. The same can be said about where electric vehicles get their electricity. Right now, many regions of the U.S.

are still getting their power from coal power-plants, so the impact of driving a zero emissions car in those regions is more detrimental to the environment than driving an EV in place with clean energy, such as wind, solar and hydroelectric power-plants.

But, as those types of energy become more common, the efficiency at which an EV operates will only get better. So now that we know the very real problems of electric vehicle production, how do they compare to the internal combustion engine? Let’s start where we did with the electric vehicles: production. Manufacturing the average internal combustion vehicle produces seven metric tons of CO2.

This number takes into account everything from the mining ore for steel to the moment the car rolls off the production line.

Are Electric Cars REALLY Better for the Environment?

That number is lower than EVs because of the absence of lithium ion batteries. It also has to do with how efficient ICE manufacturing has become. We’re talking about the industry that is responsible for inventing the assembly line. After the car rolls out of the factory, greenhouse emissions from gasoline-powered cars average around 5.

2 metric tons per year, and that’s if the car drives the national average of about 11,800 miles per year.

Over the lifespan of a car, it’s responsible for 57 metric tons of CO2, that’s seven for production and 50 in emissions. Gasoline, like lithium, has to be mined. The average car in the U.S.

goes through about 500 gallons of gas per year, and that gas, like the lithium in the batteries, has to come from somewhere. There’s a lot of steps between the extraction of crude oil to you filling your car at the gas station, and each step has an environmental impact. Crude oil extraction starts with drilling into the earth, either on land or on the ocean floor.

After the crude oil is mined, it needs to be refined into gasoline and other petroleum products such jet fuel, petroleum jelly and plastic. This process releases tons of greenhouse gases, including not only CO2 but methane and nitrous oxide as well.

Every day around the world, close to 95 million barrels of oil are produced and every day oil refinement is responsible for emitting 767 millions tons of CO2 into the atmosphere. Sure, the average car is responsible for 5.2 tons of CO2 every year, but oil refineries release a whopping 280 billion metric tons of CO2 in that same timeframe.

(engine revs) (beep) chargers driving by, dude. All right, let’s dial it back and get some more manageable numbers, okay?

I’m sorry. We know that over the average lifespan of a car with an internal combustion engine, it will emit roughly 57 metric tons of C02. Over the same time period, the average EV is responsible for 28 metric tons of emissions, less than half of that of an ICE engine. Despite the fact that electric vehicles make more CO2 during their production, they more than make up for it by not having any emissions during use. Taking into account the emissions produced by electric power-plants that electric vehicles source their power from, the national average for an EV is around two metric tons per year.

So that means the average EV will become more efficient than a gas-powered car between six months to two years of driving it. In fact, even the least efficient electric vehicle with the dirtiest power source, like a coal power-plant, will be better for the environment than the most efficient gas engine after a certain period of time. Electric vehicles in states with access to cleaner electricity like windmills, solar and hydroelectric power-plants are significantly more efficient. Look, I cross-referenced everything in this video and have no agenda to push, I just wanted to put that out there because, you know, it’s kinda tiring seeing the same bogus facts being regurgitated in the comments every time we make a video on EVs.

Let’s take a look at a few more myths.

Myth number one: electric vehicle production and charging from coal-powered plants produces more emissions than gas car production and operation. False. If you need a little more convincing, here’s an amazing app that can calculate and compare the emissions of any gas car versus any electric car, and in the long run, any EV beats any gas car in efficiency. I’ll put the link right here and in the description if you wanna check it out for yourself. Myth number two: our electric grid can’t handle the onslaught of EVs.

This one is also false. Even if a quarter of the cars on the road were electric tomorrow, the electric grids in the U.S. could handle all of them without a disruption. Myth number three: government subsidies for electric cars are unfair to poor people, they only benefit the rich.

Now this is a pretty (mumble) insight, okay? It’s true that if you buy an electric car, you can get a federal rebate of up to 7500 bucks. That benefits everyone. But if you’re rich enough to buy an expensive luxury EV, like a Tesla Model X, you’ll actually only receive about half of that amount. Yeah, kinda surprising, huh?

Look, man, I love my gas-powered Mustang, I’m gonna own a gas-powered car for the rest of my life. Nothing matches the sound of a V8 turning gas into noise, I’m gonna get that tattooed onto me someday. But I still have to acknowledge the truth. No matter how you spin it, electric vehicles have less of an environmental impact than gas-powered cars. I’m not gonna say you’re a bad person if you don’t like EVs, ’cause you’re not, I just wanna put the facts on the table.

If this video helped you learn, I’m very happy for that, and I welcome you aboard. There doesn’t need to be any sort of separation. Hey, if you liked this video, hit that subscribe button down there and hit the bell too so you never miss another Donut video. We’re uploading every day now, which is..

. kinda stressful. But we’re having fun. Follow me on all socia media @nolanjsykes. Follow Donut @donutmedia on all socia.

Be kind. Be kind! I’ll see you next time.

All right. (cup crashes) Ah, Christ.

I just spilled water everywhere..

Read More: Is Toyota late to EVs?

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