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Considering Overall Life-Cycles Electric Cars Pollute More

Charging chemical car batteries using electricity from coal-fired power stations generates more pollution than running regular combustion engine vehicles

The public’s apathy for electric vehicles might turn out to be a good thing, with experts once again claiming that charging chemical car batteries using electricity from coal-fired power stations generates more pollution than building and running regular combustion engine vehicles.

Furthermore, manufacturing processes in electric car factories produce more toxic waste than the leftovers that come from building traditional models, with the production of electric vehicles having the potential to produce twice the level of global warming gasses on a per vehicle basis.

Looking at the entire life-cycle of cars – from cradle-to-grave and even cradle-to-cradle – in terms of the potential for pollution electric cars were at best equal to internal combustion models and often worse.

In fact, battery chemicals and their many manufacturing difficulties mean electric cars have already done most of their damaging-the-world stuff in the factory before they even hit the road. Producing batteries and electric motors requires a lot of precious metals and toxic minerals such as nickel, copper and aluminium.

In regions where fossil fuels are the main sources of power, electric cars offer no benefits and may even cause more harm. It is counter-productive to promote electric vehicles in regions where electricity is primarily produced from lignite, coal or even heavy oil combustion.

In Europe, where electricity is produced in a number of different ways, electric cars do offer environmental benefits when compared with cars with internal combustion engines.

The longer an electric car in Europe stays mobile, the greater it’s leading edge over petrol and diesel engines. An electric car’s longevity depends a great deal on how long its battery lasts, not least since it is very expensive to replace them. Batteries are gradually getting better, which could result in electric cars being used for longer.

However, as petrol and diesel engines are also improving, the relationships between the different types of vehicles are not constant.

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    October 9, 2012 7:45 pmPosted 5 years ago
    Jackie Snyder

    Electric cars are awesome! I managed to build my own (well actually it was my dad) and it’s great. I save so much money it’s unbelievable. This site – tells you how to do it.

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    October 10, 2012 4:38 amPosted 5 years ago

    This is a very ridiculous article. Your headline makes it seem like combustion engine cars are cleaner than electric cars which isn’t true at all. First I’ll point you to this study :A Roadmap to Climate-Friendly Cars
    Eric D. Larson, PhD Alyson Kenward, PhD. It breaks down state by states which is the cleanest car in each state. In states that are almost 100 percent coal which isn’t all the states, 100 percent electric cars are still in the top ten cleanest cars available with the toyota prius often the cleanest car in a coal state. The prius is a form of an electric partially powered by an electric system. Look there is no way a large car like a hummer that uses soo much steal is a cleaner construction and uses less resources than a much smaller electric car. For example the tesla is made in california on very clean electricity, and driving a 100 percent electric car is the cleanest car you can drive in california since a minority of our power comes from coal. Get your facts straight next time and do just the little bit of research. What kind of journalist are you?

    • October 10, 2012 10:27 amPosted 5 years ago
      Anthony Spark

      CARNORAMA has been researching electric vehicles in detail for over a decade now.

      Our life cycle assessments (LCAs) identify opportunities for improvement by quantifying the impacts that a vehicle has on the environment throughout its full life cycle.

      A full LCA is also known as a “Cradle to Grave” sustainability assessment, but we prefer to go one step further and focus on “Cradle to Cradle” LCA.

      Learning more about the full life cycle of electric vehicles opens the opportunity for growth and innovation. Automotive companies can pinpoint exact processes in which change and improvement is necessary, leading to cost-effective and environmentally friendly solutions.

      Taking a general “Cradle to Cradle” LCA view of Electric Vehicles worldwide, based on our own research, our opinion is that CURRENTLY Electric Vehicles pollute more. Obviously there are exceptions to the rule, and in the near future we are 100% sure this will change.

      If we take only into consideration a “Well to Wheel” LCA then the story is very different.

  • October 10, 2012 5:56 amPosted 5 years ago
    Roberto DePaschoal

    That issue was so exhaustively discussed before and proven that (you don’t have to be rocket scientist to figure it out) it is easier to control the emissions from coal fired plants, which most are far away from urban centers, than from millions of tailpipes scattered all over town. At least in big cities like L.A., Shanghai, Sao Paulo, Mexico City, etc., EVs. would dramatically decrease urban smog, noise and lung ailments, to say the least.

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    October 10, 2012 6:56 amPosted 5 years ago
    Bob Wallace

    First half of 2012 coal produced only 36% of US electricity. Down from 42.2% in 2011,

    There are a few states where coal is a major part of the grid, but they are few. There are no states whose grid is 100% coal.

    Then there are states like Idaho which use almost no coal. California will soon be a 0% coal state.

    If you look at where most of the US population lives you will see that it is not states that use a lot of coal.

    I suspect you’re spinning off the study that was just released by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. That study is getting badly referenced in the ‘copy and paste’ press.

    The possible problems with EVs were all qualified with the word “potential”. As in, if we don’t follow good industrial practices we could create a mess. That’s pretty much a “duh”.


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