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Study Finds Electric Vehicles Might Harm the Environment

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electric car chargerA study done by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology finds that electric cars might actually be worse for the environment than gas-powered cars, according to a BBC Business News article. FastCompany’s Addy Dugdale reports that the study says the main problem is the source of electricity used for charging electric vehicles (EVs).

FastCompany writes:

Using an EV in a country which relies heavily on fossil fuels for its electricity will, unsurprisingly, increase greenhouse gas emissions. Using the car in Europe, however, saw benefits of around 10%, compared to traditional combustion engines.

The BBC article says there is a potential for “substantial reductions” in greenhouse gas emissions and also exposure to tailpipe emissions over time if electric vehicles can be powered by electricity made from low-carbon sources.

In Europe, where electricity is produced in many different ways, electric cars do offer environmental benefits, the study says. However, “It is counterproductive to promote electric vehicles in regions where electricity is primarily produced from lignite, coal or even heavy oil combustion,” BBC quotes the report as saying.

The research team, BBC reports, looked at how an electric vehicle’s lifecycle compares with that of conventional vehicles. The study, which appears in the Journal of Industrial Ecology, found that the factories that produce electric cars emit more toxic waste than conventional car factories. Anders Hammer Stromman, co-author of the study, told BBC, “The global warming potential from electric vehicle production is about twice that of conventional vehicles.”

The study also found that producing batteries and electric motors requires many toxic materials, such as nickel, copper, and aluminum. And because electric car production is so harmful to the environment, such cars have already polluted a lot before they are even driven on roads, Stomman told the BBC.

He said:

Across the other impacts considered in the analysis including potential for effects related to acid rain, airborne particulate matter, smog, human toxicity, ecosystem toxicity and depletion of fossil fuel and mineral resources, electric vehicles consistently perform worse or on par with modern internal combustion engine vehicles, despite virtually zero direct emissions during operation.

FastCompany writes:

The length of the vehicle’s life has an impact on its carbon footprint — those with a life of around 200,000 km improve on gas and diesel engines by around 28% and 19% respectively. Halve the mileage, however, and an EV’s effectiveness decreases by anything between 9% and 14%.

BBC quotes Stromman as suggesting that anyone considering buying an electric vehicle first check the source(s) of electricity, and also look at the warranty on the batteries, because, among other things, batteries are expensive to replace. Stromman told the BBC that the benefits of electric vehicles can be an incentive to change the sources of electricity to low-carbon sources: “Those in power, meanwhile, should recognise “the many potential advantages of electric vehicles [which] should serve as a motivation for cleaning up regional electricity mixes.”


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