The Detroit Auto Show is winding down with new electric vehicles popping up left and right and though everyone is pushing their range limits, one Carnegie Mellon professor says that might not be the best thing for the environment. Jeremy Michalek just completed a study that says for the moment hybrid and electric cars with smaller batteries might actually be more environmentally friendly over the lifetime of the car — it turns out big batteries are huge emissions culprits early on in their manufacturing.

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Jeremy Michalek is a professor at Carnegie Mellon in the departments of engineering and public policy and mechanical engineering and recently submitted the results of his study to the Journal of Mechanical Design. Michalek studied the lifetime span of hybrid and electric vehicles and how each moment in their life affected their total carbon output. We all know that EV’s are best when powered with renewable power — powering your EV with coal power from the grid is going to make it a bigger emitter than if it were powered by a wind turbine — but he found that the shorter the range of the car, the better it is for the environment.

Michalek explains in his study that smaller battery packs are not only better for the purses of their owners — the bigger the battery, the more expensive it is — but they are also significantly nicer to the environment and can be reproduced quickly. He notes that he hopes people will start gravitating to smaller battery packs saying, “batteries will start being produced more frequently, and we can move quicker down the battery learning curve and hopefully make them cheaper.” Electric vehicle batteries — like most electronics — depend on a long line of chemicals and minerals to function and are difficult to manufacture. That means that they are hefty carbon polluters in the initial extraction and secondary manufacturing stage and the bigger the battery is the larger its emissions in the first two stages of its life.

Though we’d love to see an all-electric vehicle start to drive 300 miles on one charge, it turns out that we’re not at the stage yet where that is the best idea. Thankfully, technology moves quickly so we can still keep hoping for that kind of enticing emission-free range somewhere in the future.

Via The Tartan