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Electric vehicles emit less greenhouse gasses than diesel, even when energy comes from coal-fired power stations

Patrick McDonnell
05 November 2017
On average, electric vehicles will emit half the CO2 emissions of a diesel car by 2030, including the manufacturing emissions, says T&E
On average, electric vehicles will emit half the CO2 emissions of a diesel car by 2030, including the manufacturing emissions, says T&E


Cars powered by electricity emit 50% less greenhouse gases than diesel-powered vehicles, according to a European study. The report suggests that even where coal-fired power stations are used to generate electricity, electric cars are more beneficial than diesel ones.

Belgium’s VUB University has calculated the total lifecycle emissions of an electric car, including its manufacture, battery build, and all its energy consumption. The university found that: “Electric cars emit significantly less greenhouse gases over their lifetimes than diesel engines even when they are charged by the most carbon intensive energy.”

The Transport & Environment, a think-tank campaigning for cleaner transport in Europe, commissioned the research. “On average, electric vehicles will emit half the CO2 emissions of a diesel car by 2030, including the manufacturing emissions,” said Yoann Le Petit, a spokesman for the T&E think tank, which commissioned the study.

The study cites the example of Poland, one of highest users of coal for energy generation, where it concludes that it is still significantly more beneficial to use an electric vehicle than a diesel-powered on, despite the original source of power generation.

The new study contradicts calculations published last year by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre’s science wing. VUB calculates Poland’s emissions significantly lower at 650gCO2/kWh, than was originally estimated.

The European is currently formulating emission standards for implementation by 2030, which is due to announced in November.

The VUB research also explores the materials that will be required to produce electric vehicle power sources, specifically their battery components. The VUB study concludes: “While the supply of critical metals – lithium, cobalt, nickel and graphite – and rare earths would have to be closely monitored and diversified, it should not constrain the clean transport transition. As battery technology improves and more renewables enter the electricity grid, emissions from battery production itself could be cut by 65.”

The Guardian, which revealed the VUB study, article noted: “Just 1.7% of new vehicles sold in Europe are electric, and some EU officials question whether Europe has access to enough lithium to create a 5-10% market share for electric cars anytime soon. Its capacity to scale up construction of battery plants may also be in doubt.”

The newspaper quotes EU source as saying: “You can’t have a massive explosion of electric cars as there are no plants here to build the batteries. In any case, when you take into account the emissions from battery manufacture and electricity supply, their GHG [green house gas] emissions are not so attractive.”

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