Electric Cars are NOT as Green as you Think
- And Some are Worse
Polluters than Petrol! -
Tesla S P100D
saloon produces more CO2 than petrol-driven
wants new vehicles to be electric or ultra-low emission
electricity comes from power stations that burn fossil
fuels such as coal
batteries eighth worst metal to mine and process in
terms of pollution
You do not have to be a cynic to know that utopias are just
whopping big pies in the sky.
The one currently being hawked by our masters is the brave new
world of the electric car, a place in which there are no noxious
emissions from petrol and diesel engines, and where the air in
city centers is as clean and as sweet as an exclusive Alpine
This pure air, free of nasty carcinogens and toxic particles,
will save the lives of many of the estimated 40,000 people in
the UK alone who are killed by air pollution each year.
Like all utopias, it sounds seductive - so wonderful, in fact,
that cities and even entire countries have pledged to ban all
petrol and diesel vehicles within the next two decades.
Westminster Electric Car Juice Point
where electric vehicles get their batteries charged
Last month, Oxford City Council announced it would start ridding
itself of petrol and diesel vehicles from some streets by 2020,
with a view to a total ban by 2035.
In France, President Emmanuel Macron's government, in a
typical display of Gallic hubris, has declared an,
'end to the sale
of petrol and diesel cars by 2040',
...which would be a
'veritable revolution' according to their ecology minister.
Holland is planning a
similar move in just eight years' time, and even India is
considering a ban by 2035.
The British Government, meanwhile, has announced an 'aspiration'
for all new vehicles to be electric or ultra-low emission by
2040. Although this is somewhat less ambitious than other
countries, ministers are still sending out a clear signal - it's
all go for the electric car.
But not so fast. It's time for a reality check about electric
cars, and to realize that they can be every bit as polluting as
their petrol and diesel forebears.
Research recently published by the Trancik Lab of the
highly esteemed Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
could wipe the smug expressions off thousands of electric car
The boffins at the Trancik Lab have shown that an electric Tesla
Model S P100D saloon produces more carbon dioxide, at 226g per
kilometer, than a petrol-driven run-around such as the
Mitsubishi Mirage, which is responsible for just 192g/km.
Tesla Model S P100D saloon
produces carbon dioxide at 226g per kilometer,
according to Massachusetts Institute of Technology
And unfortunately for Tesla drivers who would rev their engines
in fury and declare the research an anomaly, the MIT finding
backs up that of the Norwegian University of Science and
Technology, which last year declared:
vehicles can have higher life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions
than smaller conventional vehicles.'
So what's going on
vehicles are necessarily greener. Since they don't have exhaust
pipes, what on earth can be causing the pollution?
Before we come to the answer, one salient point needs to be
established - electric cars are indeed greener than petrol and
diesel cars of the same size.
If, for example, that
Tesla saloon is compared with a large, petrol-driven BMW 750i
saloon, its figure of 226g of CO2 compares well to
the 385g that the BMW emits every kilometer.
Yet as we shall see, that is no reason for electric car drivers
to polish their halos just yet.
First, there is the obvious point that the energy that charges
the batteries of an electric car has to come from somewhere.
Unless you have your own private power station that runs on
renewable energy, the chances are that you will be using the
National Grid to charge your car overnight.
And where does the National Grid's electricity come from?
According to the
latest figures in the Digest of UK Energy Statistics, 51 per
cent of it comes from power stations that burn fossil fuels,
such as gas and coal.
Nuclear power - much
loathed by many greens - is responsible for 21 per cent of your
car's power, while just under a quarter of the power comes from
The research found that at petrol-driven
such as the Mitsubishi Mirage,
which is responsible for just 192g/km
So yes, while having an electric car certainly reduces roadside
emissions, the increased demand required to charge electric
vehicles means more fossil fuels being burned at power stations,
which of course worldwide pump millions of tons of pollutants
into the atmosphere.
Second, because under Government policy all electric cars are
officially classified as 'zero emissions', many owners are under
the impression that their cars can be big, and yet miraculously
have no environmental consequences.
Whereas, as we have
seen, the research states categorically that large electric cars
can be more polluting that small petrol ones.
Drivers are also after cars with a long range - the distance
they can travel before having to be charged up again. The
average electric vehicle today offers a range of around 150
miles, according to data provider EV Volumes.
Tesla claims that its
Model S can do up to 424 miles and other manufacturers are
aiming to get their range up to around 400 miles by 2022.
But the point is that big cars with long ranges need batteries
with lots of power, and the more power they use, the more
pollution they cause. If electric car drivers are really as
green as they think they are, then they should ensure their cars
As Nico Meilhan,
a car analyst and energy expert, explained to the Financial
'If we really
cared about CO2, we'd reduce car size and
The third part of the
problem lies in those batteries.
Mining the huge
amounts of nickel, cobalt and lithium used in their manufacture
comes at an environmental cost. As Mr Meilhan says:
'If you switch
from oil to cobalt and lithium, you have not addressed any
problem. You have just switched your problem.'
A 2009 study revealed
that nickel was the eighth worst metal to mine and process in
terms of global warming and pollution.
Villagers who live
next to the Cerro Matoso nickel mine in Colombia, for example,
have reported higher rates of respiratory diseases and birth
Producing lithium also has an environmental cost, as rocks need
to be crushed, often in Australia, and then shipped to China to
The lithium extracted
from South American deserts results in one ton of carbon dioxide
for every ton of lithium carbonate produced.
large, petrol-driven BMW 750i saloon
consumes 226g of CO2 which compares well
electric cars of the same size
And then of course there is the problem of what happens to the
batteries when they reach the end of their lives.
It is thought that 11
million tons of old lithium-ion batteries will be thrown away
over the next 12 years, of which only 5 per cent will be
The fourth problem with electric cars is that their manufacture
can often be just as environmentally damaging as producing
petrol or diesel-driven cars. After all, the steel, glass,
plastics and fabrics used are much of a muchness.
Very few electric cars are built with a proper sensitivity to
the environment. One that does do well is the BMW i3, the seats
of which are made from recycled bottles, and whose carbon fibre
body is produced in a factory that runs purely on
The fifth and final part of the problem is the notion that,
because electric cars do not have any exhaust, they truly are
'zero emissions' when being driven.
Unfortunately, this is nonsense. Like all other cars, electric
vehicles produce pollution from tyre and brake dust.
According to a paper
produced by the European Commission, a staggering half of all
particulate matter in the air comes from these sources.
governments don't currently pay much attention to
particulate matter, it is in fact highly polluting, with
strong links to cardiopulmonary toxicity,' the Government's
top adviser, Professor Frank Kelly, wrote recently in The
Kelly, who chairs the Committee On The Medical Effects Of
Air Pollutants, also stated that the Government's plan to
phase out petrol and diesel cars did not go far enough.
'Our cities need
fewer cars, not just cleaner cars,' he wrote.
The answer, then,
appears to be obvious.
If we really do want
that utopia, then we should just get rid of cars, electric or
otherwise, and get on our bikes.
Now that really is pie in the sky...