Are electric vehicles better for the environment than gas cars?

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Many folks believe the myth the process of mining metals for thousands of brand new electric cars to replace internal combustion engines causes more harm than good. The debate surrounding the true environmental impact of producing electric vehicles is seriously complex, but this video does a great job of summarizing it. While this video doesn’t provide a final, definite answer, it definitely contextualizes the bigger picture. That bigger picture in this debate is the widely unseen polluting circus necessary to extract fossil fuels from their resting place deep underground and get them to the pump.
EV or Gas, What Pollutes More?
This video offers a simple and relatively comprehensive look into where our energy comes from and what it takes to get it to your local gas pump or EV charger. There is heated debate surrounding the true environmental impact of mass producing hundreds of thousands of new battery electric vehicles, but this opened my eyes to a more wholistic understanding of how humans produce and use energy. According to studies performed in 2019 by the Swedish Environmental Research Institute,
According to new calculations, the production of lithium-ion batteries on average emits somewhere between 61-106 kilos of carbon dioxide equivalents per kilowatt-hour battery capacity produced. If less transparent data is included, the upper value will be higher; 146 kilos carbon dioxide equivalents per kilowatt hour produced. The large emissions range primarily depends on production methods and the type of electricity used in the battery manufacturing process. Current figures for climate emissions are lower than they were in the 2017 report where the average was 150-200 kilos of carbon dioxide equivalents per kWh of battery capacity. “That emissions are lower now is mainly due to the fact that battery factories have been scaled up and are running at full capacity, which makes them more efficient per unit produced. We have also taken into account the possibility of using electricity that is virtually fossil-free in several of the production stages,” says Erik Emilsson, researcher at IVL.
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Using the median of 61-106 kilograms of carbon dioxide produced per kWh of battery capacity at 83.5 kilograms according to the Swedish Environmental Institute’s numbers, an 80 kWh battery would produce about 7.4 tons of CO2 during mining. According to the EPA, the average car on the road produces about 4.6 tons of CO2 per year just from driving, so it takes less than two years on the road for the EV to make up for its mining emissions. A 2021 Ford F-150 with a 5.0-liter V8 produces almost 8 tons of CO2 per year from driving alone, and when you calculate the carbon footprint of an F-150 Lightning with the 131 kWh extended range battery pack, mining for the Lightning’s battery produces just over 12 tons of CO2 emissions. Even at 12 tons of CO2 emissions, the F-150 Lightning produces fewer emissions than the Coyote powered F-150 in under two years, and it will continue operating emission-free for the rest of its on-road lifetime with renewable electricity.
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These annual CO2 emissions statistics don’t include the pollution caused by the process of producing the gasoline we need to refuel ICE cars which, as the video explains, causes a ton of pollution at each step, not to mention the devastating effects of leaks and oil spills. These numbers also fail to include emissions released during either ICE car or EV shipping, production, and manufacturing, so real-world impact varies based on a variety of factors.
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As we transition to more renewably sourced electricity through implementation and expansion of wind, geothermal, solar, and other renewable energy technologies, powering all these new EVs results in lower and lower carbon emissions.
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While mining for the materials necessary to produce a modern EV battery is a dirty process, electricity doesn’t need to be pumped out from under the ocean or shipped across the globe on oil tankers that spew irresponsible levels of pollutants into our atmosphere with every nautical mile covered. Electricity doesn’t get spilled into the oceans causing environmental degradation, and when responsibly sourced, electricity doesn’t produce any greenhouse gasses.
A version of this article originally appeared on Jalopnik.

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