The Carbon Footprint of Electric Cars vs. Gas Cars

A white footprint with CO2 written in the middle, showing a forested background

While much of the developed world becomes less reliant on fossil fuels and transitions to using electric cars, there are a lot of questions surrounding the carbon footprint of electric cars versus gas cars and whether electric cars really are better for the environment.

There is a lot of data to factor in, and other considerations to analyze, such as developments in technology and utility companies moving away from fossil fuels. But it’s clear that when it comes to electric cars versus gas cars, the carbon footprint of electric cars is already lesser than standard vehicles with internal combustion engines, and this trend will continue improving for electric cars.

Carbon Footprint Concerns: Electric Cars vs. Gas Cars

Some reputable studies, including one conducted by researchers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), state the initial manufacturing of electric cars generates higher emissions than the production of gasoline-powered vehicles using internal combustion engines. The findings indicate this is due to two factors: the amount of energy required to manufacture electric car batteries and a lack of renewable electricity being generated by utility companies. 

However, over the lifetime of an electric car, the total greenhouse gas emissions from manufacturing, driving and charging — instead of fueling up at gas pumps — will be lower for electric cars. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), this is because EVs create zero tailpipe emissions.

Electric cars are powered by rechargeable lithium-ion batteries. Making a lithium-ion battery is energy-intensive, and it requires mining raw materials such as cobalt and lithium. Then, once all the necessary raw materials are extracted from the earth, the batteries are manufactured in what are called gigafactories, which produce electric car batteries en masse. 

The vast majority of operable gigafactories today are located in China and they are major polluters. This is because older gigafactories, like China’s, are primarily powered by fossil fuels. Essentially, if an electric car battery is manufactured in an old gigafactory, there is a large carbon footprint.

Developments Lowering the Carbon Footprint of Electric Cars

As raw materials such as cobalt and lithium become increasingly rare and difficult to mine, companies will be forced to ramp up their recycling efforts which will lead to less mining and an eventual decrease in production at gigafactories. Further, an increasing number of utility companies worldwide are shifting from fossil fuels to embracing renewable energy like solar and wind power. This means as the years and decades progress, electric cars will become increasingly superior to gas cars in relation to emissions.

Most automobile manufacturers are already at work to make sure they have significant recycling capacity in place for lithium-ion batteries in the coming years. They realize electric cars are becoming increasingly popular and that they need to get ahead of supply chain issues before this decade is out.

Indeed, electric cars are already greener than gas cars. However, the full potential of electric cars and how they can help decrease humanity’s carbon footprint is still years away.

Carbon Footprint of Electric Cars vs. Gas Cars: For Further Consideration

If you have emissions-related questions or concerns beyond this overview looking at the carbon footprint of electric cars versus gas cars, such as how long you need to charge an electric car, check out EvoCharge’s EV Charging Time tool to see Level 2 charging times for specific electric cars. If you would like additional information about EvoCharge’s aftermarket charging solutions, please contact us.

Another helpful tool is the U.S. Department of Energy’s Beyond Tailpipe Emissions Calculator, which can estimate the greenhouse gas emissions associated with charging and driving an electric car. Using the tool, select an electric car or plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV), type in your zip code, then see the projected CO2 emissions compared to a vehicle with an internal combustion engine.

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