Yes, electric cars pollute less than combustion engines

Considering all stages of a vehicle’s life cycle, a new study confirms that electric cars emit less greenhouse gases than petrol or diesel cars. Even if fossil fuels are still used in production and exploitation.

A new study again refutes the trite argument that electric vehicles are not much cleaner than combustion engine, petrol or diesel vehicles, when you take electricity production and battery production into account.

As part of this work, Georg Bieker and his team, from the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT), examined the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of passenger cars (including SUVs) in European markets, American, Indian and Chinese, covering approximately 70 % of global new car sales.

The researchers took into account current and projected GHG emissions attributable to each stage of the life cycle of electric and thermal vehicles. In other words, they took into account greenhouse gas emissions from the extraction of materials to the operation and eventual recycling or disposal of vehicles.

big gaps

These results show that the lifetime emissions of an electric vehicle sold in Europe in 2021 are between 66 and 69% lower with that of a combustion engine vehicle. In the United States, an electric vehicle will also produce between 60 and 68% less emissions. In China and India – two countries that produce their electricity mainly from coal – an electric vehicle will generate energy respectively between 37 and 45% and between 19 and 34% less CO2. Note that the study here assumes that each vehicle registered in 2021 will have covered more than 230,000 km.

« The basic conclusions of our study are ultimately the same for all regions, despite the differences in vehicle and power mixemphasizes Rachel Muncrief, deputy director of the ICCT. ” Battery-powered vehicles already emit less greenhouse gases than conventional petrol and diesel vehicles. This also applies to countries with a high share of coal-fired electricity, such as China and India.« .

electric cars
Credit: Ismael Marder/pixabay

The study also looks to the future, up to 2030, based on projections from the International Energy Agency, to envision what the future electricity mix (energy resources used in electricity generation) will look like as climate policies evolve in each region. For example, in Europe, the lifetime emissions of an electric vehicle sold in 2030 produces 74 to 77% less CO2 compared to combustion engine vehicles.

This new work is consistent with another study published in Nature in October 2020. Indeed, the authors had concluded that if electric vehicles are not completely “clean”, on the other hand, they are always less polluting than vehicles with combustion engines. And this, even though fossil fuels are still used in production.