October 25, 2014

Electric cars produce MORE CO2 than petrol or diesel cars

Rather than offering a low CO2 alternative to the internal combustion engine, it seems electric cars start their life with an extra 40,000 miles worth of CO2 already on the clock.

Photo Renault Zoe EV

Despite bribes from governments around the world to get car buyers to buy in to electric cars, they’ve been a flop. But that’s not surprising.

Electric cars offer nothing to cash-strapped car buyers that convinces them they are a viable alternative to the ICE car; they’re vastly more expensive (even after tax-payer funded bribes), offer a feeble range and ‘refuelling’ is a hugely time-consuming nightmare.

But there are a handful of evangelists for electric cars around the world who are happy to take all the downsides of the EV because they believe they are ‘saving the planet’ by running a car that has zero emissions.

Of course, they’re deluded because unless you can recharge your EV from pure solar power all you’re doing is shifting emissions from the point of use to the point of production of the electricity used. There are benefits to that – certainly in polluted cities – but it’s a very ‘NIMBY’ view.

But it now seems that even if you can use solar power to charge your EV, you’re still more polluting than an ICE car.

A report from the Journal of Industrial Ecology has shown that electric cars, on average, start life with the equivalent of 40,000 miles more CO2 ‘on the clock’ than a comparable ICE car thanks to the additional energy used to produce the car – especially the lithium for the batteries – meaning it is very unlikely an electric car will have a life cycle long enough to offer CO2 savings compared to an ICE car. And therein lies another problem.

With an electric car run from ‘mains’ electricity, the CO2 ‘savings’ are about 50 per cent compared to an ICE car. So if an EV is to emit less CO2 than a comparable ICE car it will need to travel at least 80,000 miles in its life before it ‘breaks even’. That in itself is a big ask when it takes so much time to recharge EVs, but there’s another problem.

As the batteries on an EV age, they become less efficient. Nissan has admitted that the 73 mile range the LEAF has when it’s new will drop to just 55 miles after five years, making it even more difficult to rack up enough miles to ever ‘break even’ on CO2 emissions.

But if, by some miracle, you manage to get to around 100,000 miles in you electric car – assuming you live long enough to recharge it often enough – then you may have saved as much as 9 tons of CO2. Which does sound a huge amount of CO2, but it’s not.

There’s a whole industry grown up around CO2 emissions as world governments use it as a stick to beat taxpayers, so a ton of CO2 has a ‘damage’ value. Using the spurious cod science on CO2 emissions governments use to justify their taxation, it’s said the damage to the planet of a ton of ‘man-made’ CO2 is about £3.50. Which means the total cost saving for planet earth, assuming you make your life a misery by driving an electric car for 100,000 miles, is just £31.50.

Which puts in to context how stupid a tax-payer bribe of up to £5k to buy an EV is. Much better to spend the money on research in to a truly viable alternative to oil than get a ‘planet saving’ return of just £30 from a £5,000 incentive.

Even by government standards, that’s a poor return on investment.

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  1. Guys, we’re happy to publish your views, but the way to get your point across is not to show your prejudice and accuse the author of lying!

    There are as many eminent and educated experts who believe man-made climate change is a myth as those who do. And those of us long enough in the tooth remember being warned by similar experts to those now espousing the man-made climate change theory that we’re heading in to a new ice age, not one fried by CO2 emissions!

    As for the report stating EVs ARE cleaner than ICE cars, there is truth in that. But only after 93,000 miles (and then by only 10-24%) and assuming the EV’s batteries last that long and anyone manages to drive an EV that far.

    But ultimately, even if you do buy in to the man-mad global warming with CO2 emissions line, then the small amount of ‘damage’ the ICE car does is insignificant compared to so many other things (like fat people and cattle and even dogs) that it’s entirely fair to see the vilification of the ICE car as a convenient tax weapon for governments around the world.

    • First of all there are no credible experts any more that show real evidence that climate change isn’t occurring, and isn’t man made.

      Second I don’t know why this idea about an ice age persists:
      “And those of us long enough in the tooth remember being warned by similar experts to those now espousing the man-made climate change theory that we’re heading in to a new ice age, not one fried by CO2 emissions!”

      This is an idea presented by a very small number of scientists long ago, and was never a consensus idea. The evidence they purported at the time for this idea was quickly discredited and it was never adopted as a generally accepted scientific idea. When you take science that wasn’t ever established and try to use it to discredit science that is very well established that is manipulation you are doing, which is lying. I’m sorry if you find that offensive, but calling a spade a spade is just that. You are free to believe what you want, but when you write an article like this and don’t have real data to back up your argument you get into trouble, and you should know better.

      • OK, probably best to agree to disagree as we’ve already spent a disproportionate amount of time defending this article!

        But before we depart the discussion (probably!) let’s just quote one very recent article by Forbes (and, frankly, we could spend the rest of our days delivering eminent scientific opinion that debunks the CO2 global warming theory):

        New data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration show atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are continuing to rise but global temperatures are not following suit. The new data undercut assertions that atmospheric carbon dioxide is causing a global warming crisis.

        NOAA data show atmospheric carbon dioxide levels rose 2.67 parts per million in 2012, to 395 ppm. The jump was the second highest since 1959, when scientists began measuring atmospheric carbon dioxide levels.

        Global temperatures are essentially the same today as they were in 1995, when atmospheric carbon dioxide levels were merely 360 ppm. Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels rose 10 percent between 1995 and 2012, yet global temperatures did not rise at all. Global warming activists are having a difficult time explaining the ongoing disconnect between atmospheric carbon dioxide levels and global temperatures.

        This isn’t the first time in recent years that global temperatures have disobeyed the models presented by global warming activists. From the mid-1940s through the mid-1970s, global temperatures endured a 30-year decline even as atmospheric carbon dioxide levels rose nearly 10 percent. From 1900 through 1945, by contrast, global temperatures rose rapidly despite a lack of coal power plants, SUV’s, and substantial carbon dioxide emissions.

        Remarkably, global warming activists are spinning the ongoing rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, along with the ongoing lack of global temperature rise, as evidence that we are facing an even worse global warming crisis than they have been predicting.

        “The amount of heat-trapping carbon dioxide in the air jumped dramatically in 2012, making it very unlikely that global warming can be limited to another 2 degrees as many global leaders have hoped,” the Associated Press reported yesterday.

        Actually, the fact that temperatures remain flat even as carbon dioxide levels continue to rise is a devastating rebuke to assertions that rising atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are causing a global warming crisis.

        On a related front, the NOAA data amplify the futility of imposing costly carbon dioxide restrictions on the U.S. economy in the name of fighting global warming. U.S. carbon dioxide emissions declined 10 percent during the past decade, yet global emissions rose by more than 30 percent.

        Regardless of the future pace of ongoing reductions in U.S. carbon dioxide emissions, global carbon dioxide emissions will continue to rise. Even if the United States committed economic suicide by imposing all or most of the carbon dioxide restrictions advocated by global warming activists, the ensuing U.S. carbon dioxide reductions would amount to merely a drop in the bucket compared to the flood of emissions increases by the world as a whole and by developing nations such as China and India in particular.

        Fortunately, as the new NOAA data show, and as global warming ‘skeptics’ have observed all along, rising carbon dioxide emissions are having only a modest impact on global temperatures and are not creating a global warming crisis.

  2. To quote Cars UK:
    “…assuming you buy in to the ‘CO2 causes global warming’ theory…”

    And there you have the source of the prejudice against EV cars.
    This article is complete nonsense, and its writer would rather contest the well-proven scientific facts behind climate change than admit that they twisted this article to make it fit their own beliefs.

  3. I would also like to point out this story somehow says that even an electric car powered by solar panels isn’t as clean as a normal car. This is a ridiculously false assertion. Where do all these magical extra CO2 emissions come from? The amount of emissions to make an electric car are about equivalent to an average car.

    • That’s exactly the point of this article. The Journal of Industrial Ecology assessed the energy needed to build the EV in the first place, and the extra energy to produce an EV is, on average, the equivalent of 40,000 miles of additional CO2. So before the EV even leaves a showroom it’s polluted far more than an ICE car.

      • This doesn’t make any sense. For example I live in california where about fifty percent of our energy is non CO2 emitting. Furthermore the remaining 50 percent isn’t all coal power much of it is natural gas which emits 2/3s less emissions than a coal fired power plant. So a Tesla 100 EV car made in California cannot emit that many emissions because there is no way to produce that much emissions in the production of the car built here. If the car is then run on solar panels, or other clean energy the car will have produced very little CO2 over it’s life span, and much much much less than any internal combustion car. This is a false argument and must either be taking this study out of context or this is a flawed study.

        • I’m afraid it does appear to be correct because of the high energy cost involved in the mining and production of the lithium ion batteries.

          • Again I don’t believe that somehow mining lithium is much more energy intensive than mining, aluminum, or other internal combustion car elements. Also we have to remember that although the battery is large on an EV, the car in general has less moving parts and is lighter than a normal conventional car. That extra weight for an internal combustion car is extra materials that need to get mined. On face value this is just boldly false. I wonder who paid for the study is this some kind of oil company or anti climate change thing??? In addition the 2013 EV Nissan leaf uses half as much rare earth elements than the previous model. There is no mention that different EV cars use varying amounts of rare earth elements. Sorry just doesn’t hold up under scrutiny.

          • It appears to. The energy costs are averaged so there will be differences but you can’t escape the fact that the EV is already far more polluting by the time it hits the road than a comparable ICE car.

          • Again I am very very skeptical about this conclusion. Can the author of this article provide a link to the actual study that came to this finding? I’ll take a look at their data and get back you everyone.

          • It’s called the Comparative Environmental Life Cycle Assessment of Conventional and Electric Vehicles by the Journal of Industrial Ecology. Enjoy!

          • I haven’t had a chance to read the whole study yet, but here is something from their intro right off the top.

            “We find that EVs powered by the present European electricity mix offer a 10% to 24% decrease in global warming potential (GWP) relative to conventional diesel or gasoline vehicles assuming lifetimes of 150,000 km.”

            “Results are sensitive to assumptions regarding electricity source, use phase energy consumption, vehicle lifetime, and battery replacement schedules. Because production impacts are more significant for EVs than conventional vehicles, assuming a vehicle lifetime of 200,000 km exaggerates the GWP benefits of EVs to 27% to 29% relative to gasoline vehicles or 17% to 20% relative to diesel. An assumption of 100,000 km decreases the benefit of EVs to 9% to 14% with respect to gasoline vehicles and results in impacts indistinguishable from those of a diesel vehicle. Improving the environmental profile of EVs requires engagement around reducing vehicle production supply chain impacts and promoting clean electricity sources in decision making regarding electricity infrastructure.”

            You’ll note this study does say EVs are the cleanest option over the life-cycle of car. Note they also say “results are sensitive” ” regarding electricity source”, and they assume about a 10 percent renewable power for the cars production. Like I said before in california our energy is about 50 percent carbon free, so the Tesla is a cleaner car in the confines of what this study says, and much cleaner than any other type of car.

            Thanks, better luck next time. Please look into these studies before you report falsely without looking at the details.

          • This is from the conclusion of the paper(GWP means global warming gas production impact):
            (Also note they use 150,000km for all cars as the baseline for how long the car will be on the road even though the study says most estimate is these cars will last longer than that.)

            “For all scenarios analyzed, the use phase is responsible for the majority of the GWP impact, either directly through fuel combustion or indirectly during electricity production. When powered by average European electricity, EVs are found to reduce GWP by 20% to 24% compared to gasoline ICEVs and by 10% to 14% relative to diesel ICEVs under the base case assumption of a 150,000 km vehicle lifetime. When powered by electricity from natural gas, we estimate LiNCM EVs offer a reduction in GHG emissions of 12% compared to gasoline ICEVs, and break even with diesel ICEVs. EVs powered by coal electricity are expected to cause an increase in GWP of 17% to 27% compared with diesel and gasoline ICEVs.”

            You’ll note this conclusion says that assuming the EU power sources as it is EVs are the cleanest option. You’ll also note the only time EVS aren’t as clean as other cars is when they are 100 percent powered by coal which is a very rare case in the world today. There aren’t many places still 100 percent coal and they are switching more to renewables, or natural gas every year.

            You should have mentioned the conclusion more in your article, please do professional journalism next time, and not try to be selective in your conclusions.

            thanks

          • The article wasn’t selective; the basic premise was that EVs start off with a negative of 40k miles of CO2 emissions. Equally, it’s clear an EV won’t achieve the same lifetime CO2 emissions as an ICE car until it reaches 80k miles. How many EVs will need new batteries by then, potentially adding another 40k miles of CO2 emissions to the list? How many EVs will ever be driven 80k miles?

            But when all is said and done, the only reason to choose an EV is the spurious basis that it emits less CO2 than an ICE car and that’s good. In any real sense, this report illustrates the real world fallacy of that assertion.

  4. I don’t know why these ideas pop up now and again that electric cars somehow create more pollution then internal combustion cars. There have been many many studies that have looked at this and the electric car is by far cleaner than just about any other car. The union of concerned scientists did a study that broke down what were the cleanest cars for each state given it’s power grid. Even in a state with almost 100 percent coal power the electric car was one of the cleanest cars available with a car like the prius being maybe cleaner in that scenario, but the prius is a form of electric car. There aren’t that many places anymore that are 100 percent coal power and cleaner energy is coming online quickly. There is no doubt that electric cars are the cleanest car you can drive.

    • Eric, thank you for debunking this article in detail, both in this comment and in your conversation above. The study states in no uncertain terms that EVs are cleaner. This article just proves that you can twist studies to say whatever you want them to say if you’re selective enough about your sources.

      • Thanks CCM. You might want to keep an eye out because I’ve seen other articles use this research similarly, distorted etc….

  5. Peter Lim says:

    you can’t relate CO2 emission with EV as powerplant already covered the CO2 emitted. it is like double counting which is not fair.

    • Not at all. It’s a completely fair comparison.

      • Jaspreet Singh Lidder says:

        I would like to see the numbers of CO2 emitted by the production of the battery packs for these electric cars, versus the CO2 emitted by the production of gas-powered cars and the numerous parts that a gas-powered car requires, such as ignition parts, tailpipe, muffler, etc. I reckon it the electric perhaps does produce more CO2 for production, but this is the initial phase of E-cars. The factories will improve their processes, just as they improved the production processes for petrol cars during the many years of past. — I’m an engineer by the way.

  6. SimonSez says:

    So that’s the only vaguely compelling reason to buy an electric car gone!

    • No, the headline says “Electric cars produce MORE CO2 than petrol or diesel cars” but as the report shows (and the comments above point out) the opposite is true:

      “We find that EVs powered by the present European electricity mix offer a 10% to 24% decrease in global warming potential (GWP) relative to conventional diesel or gasoline vehicles assuming lifetimes of 150,000 km”

      so we knew: A new EV such as the Zoe costs the same as a ICE, its battery rental is less than petrol or diesel per month, It’s smoother and quieter to drive, its cheaper to maintain
      but from this report we now also confirm: It pollutes less (soot, carcinogens, etc.) and It causes less global warming

      Win-win to the EV, despite obvious prejudice.

      • They do – 40,000 miles more before they even hit the road! Then, it takes until 80k miles before they’ve caught up with an ICE car by which time they’ll probably need new batteries – another 40k miles worth.

        The Zoe costs from £18k (it’s only £14k because a of a taxpayer subsidy which is not sustainable) whilst the Clio – on which it’s based – costs from £9k. The battery rental is MORE than it would cost to take a 50mpg ICE car the same distance.

        And yes, we are prejudiced against car buyers being told the BEV is a replacement for the ICE car. It’s not. It’s too expensive, too inconvenient and has a poor range. It’s only USP – assuming you buy in to the ‘CO2 causes global warming’ theory – is negated by this report.

        • Lots of problems with this statement. I was thinking if I should go back and ease up on you the writer of this article and now you just exclaimed a number of fallacies:
          1. Like I said before this research points out that 150,000 is the baseline they use for all cars. So their assumption in this research is that all cars will go this distance. That’s part of the research here you can’t say an electric car will only go 40,000, or 80,000 or whatever when the research says otherwise.
          2. All or most electric cars have their batteries warranted up to 100,000 miles.
          3. You just let the cat out of the bag and declared yourself to be a climate change denier: ” assuming you buy in to the CO2 causes global warming theory” The science is very clear there, and I don’t know why you would take this one report to such extremes and be selective in it’s findings yet somehow ignore, or deny the many thousands or maybe even ten of thousands of scientific papers at this point that support the idea of climate change.

          Again you are being selective and now that you’ve reveled yourself this article is just another piece of propaganda. Give it up and pull the article. You are a liar.

          • We’re always happy to have a discussion from an opposing point of view, but if you have to resort to claiming propaganda on our part and accusing us of lying, there is no point in continuing this discussion.

            We’re not ‘Climate Change Deniers’ (a terrible statement designed to justify an opposing view) we simply don’t buy in to the man made climate change theory. And nor do we believe car buyers should be persuaded BEVs are a viable alternative to ICE cars.

        • “Then, it takes until 80k miles before they’ve caught up with an ICE car by which time they’ll probably need new batteries – another 40k miles worth”

          EVs typically come with a 100,000 mile warranty – you’re just making stuff up as you go along.

          http://www.renault.co.uk/cars/model/zoe-ze/zeservices.aspx

          • The report makes it clear batteries will lose almost 20 miles of charge after five years (less than 50k miles) so by the time they reach break even at 80k miles they will be all but useless, especially in hot or cold weather. Hardly ‘making stuff up’.

          • Did you not notice ‘warranty’? – they are guaranteed to keep at least 75% charge at all times up to 100000 miles or they are replaced for free. So yes, saying ‘even at 80k miles they will be all but useless’ is exactly ‘making stuff up’ in line with the point you are trying (and failing) to make.
            You are perfectly entitled to not want an EV. No-one is going to take away your gas guzzler. If other people want to get off oil why does it upset you so much – you can say it’s not for you, you don’t have to make stuff up.

          • A warranty is exactly that – a promise to replace goods that don’t deliver. Just as Nissan has had to do to many LEAF owners in the US whose batteries are already below the guaranteed levels. And batteries replaced still make the same dent in the CO2 produced whether the owner pays for them or not.

            And, just for your information, none of us here drive what you like to call gas guzzlers on a daily basis.

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