Gallery: Study Finds Electric Cars Powered by Coal Plants Have a Heavy ...


A new study from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology states that electric cars that receive energy from coal-fired power plants could potentially have a higher carbon footprint than some of their petrol or diesel-powered counterparts. However If electric cars derive their electricity from renewable, emission-free sources such as solar and wind power, then they remain among the greenest vehicles on the road.

The report published in the Journal of Industrial Ecology states that one of the most environmentally damaging aspects of EV manufacturing lies in the vehicles’ construction – they say EV factories emit more toxic waste than conventional car factories. However at the end of the day, the research team said that given the choice (and a clean source of energy), electric cars still remain the greenest choice.

Speaking to BBC News, co-author Prof Anders Hammer Stromman said that as with all vehicles, the production, the use, and the end-of-life dismantling of a car affects the environment. “The production phase of electric vehicles proved substantially more environmentally intensive. The global warming potential from electric vehicle production is about twice that of conventional vehicles.”

He noted that one of the more environmentally damaging aspects of electric car production is the construction of batteries and electric motors, which require a lot of toxic minerals such as nickel, copper and aluminum. The acidification impact is much greater than that of conventional car production. As such, electric cars have a large carbon footprint by the time they hit the road.

“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,” added Prof Stromman.

However, Stromman noted that electric vehicles which were powered by electricity made from low-carbon electricity sources were still much more environmentally friendly as they offer “the potential for substantial reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and exposure to tailpipe emissions” over time.

“If you are considering purchasing an electric vehicle for its environmental benefits, first check your electricity source and second look closely at the warranty on the batteries,” said Professor Stromman.

+ Norwegian University of Science and Technology

Via BBC News

Images: Scooter the Photographer and cliff1066™


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  1. jerryd October 21, 2012 at 10:59 am

    Tony is right except engines in cars in real traffic only get 7% of their fuel to thr road as they are almost never driven the their eff mode. In fact my EV’s can go 60-70 mph on the fuel most gas cars use at idle.

    Next that depends on which country the coal plants are in. In the US they are more eff and clean than most places and US coal now only produces 32% of US electricity.

    And just 1kw of PV now only costing $1k, $2k installed if well shopped can power an EV for 25 yrs!!

  2. tony myers October 8, 2012 at 7:48 pm

    There are other benefits besides carbon footprint. One major advantage is less dependence on crude from un-friendly countries. It’s much easier to make electricity than to make gasoline. Another point to consider is that it is easier to clean 1 stack than 1 million tail pipes. Although not perfect, alternative source for electricity are becoming more economically feasible. An electric motor usually has a much longer lifespan than and internal compustion engine. Huge improvements in internal compustion engines are not as likely as in batteries. Electric motors are already in the 90-95% efficiency ranges. Internal combustion engines are mostly around 25% efficient, and that is in fairly new condition. Many people don’t think to change the oil or air filters which degrade efficiency quickly.

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