Gas Guzzlers vs Electric Cars: Which One Generates More Ecological Footprint Overall?

By  //  July 9, 2021

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When EVs started entering the market in the early 2000s, they were mostly small city cars that found few takers. But the market has changed over the years because of the rise in pollution levels and fuel costs, with companies like Tesla and Nissan releasing bigger and more capable EVs that can replace mainstream cars with ease. 

While EVs may seem like the answer to all these problems, the actual answer is a lot more complex than you think. From manufacturing to fueling to charging, a lot goes on behind the EV infrastructure.

To reduce overall pollution, car manufacturers have moved on to smaller and turbocharged engines which comply with stricter emission norms. While a lot of manufacturers offer hybrid power trains with their most popular models, crossovers like the Nissan Rogue are expected to get even smaller three-cylinder engines in the near future.

Even with these small engines and hybrid power trains, IC cars still can’t come close to matching EVs in terms of running costs and environmental impact. With several countries setting deadlines for IC car sales, major manufacturers like GM and Volkswagen have already started retooling their factories to accommodate more EVs, and several companies have also set deadlines themselves for ending IC car production.

Unlike regular IC cars which are relatively simple to manufacture, EVs are a different story. Because of the substantial battery packs and rigid frames to support the extra weight, EVs are a lot more complex to manufacture.

But to evaluate the overall ecological footprint, and learn whether EVs are actually better than IC cars during their lifetime, we have to dig a lot deeper, and consider both building and fueling the cars. Along with exhaust emissions, we should also consider the impact associated with oil drilling and refining, battery chemical mining, power plant emissions, and a lot more to calculate and find the lifetime impact of both Electric and IC cars.

What’s better of the two?

Right from the factory, the average EV takes a lot more effort to manufacture because of the complex battery pack and other components, resulting in higher emissions than an IC car, especially because of modern lithium-ion batteries requiring a lot of mining and metals. On average, an EV generates over 60% more pollution than a comparable IC car during manufacturing itself.

But the tables start to turn as soon as the cars hit the road. Because of greenhouse gases emitted by the IC car, the emission levels skyrocket, especially when considering the mining and effort required to extract crude oil from the ground. Along with gasoline, IC cars also need engine oil to run, contributing to even more emissions.

While the pollution levels of electric cars mostly depend on the area and power production sources, the power grid is getting cleaner as the years go on, moving to renewable sources like wind and dams. But, as it stands, there is some indirect pollution when using EVs because of the coal and gas used for energy production.

As the miles pile on, an electric car will produce only around 30% emissions compared to a regular IC car, thanks to the highly efficient process, even though the electricity used to charge the batteries comes from non-renewable resources. The pollution levels break even when both cars near the 25,000-mile mark, after which, the electric car starts pulling ahead.

After both cars cover more than 100,000 miles, the difference is significant. The EV produces less than 30% of lifetime emissions compared to the regular car, and the difference keeps on increasing.

Compared to the first-generation EVs which could barely cover 100 miles on a single change like the original Nissan Leaf, modern models like the Tesla Model 3 can easily travel more than 400 miles, making it a viable alternative to IC cars. The market has also responded well to modern EVs, with companies like Tesla shifting close to half a million EVs annually.

Older EV’s vs Modern ones, what has changed?

One of the biggest disadvantages of older EV’s like the Nissan Leaf was battery degradation. Because of the short range, owners needed to charge their cars a lot more often, leading to early battery degradation. This was one of the main reasons why people didn’t transition to EVs, as a replacement battery pack can easily cost more than $5,000.

Thanks to modern battery technologies, lithium-ion batteries will easily last more than 100,000 miles with minimal degradation with the latest generation. When solid-state batteries are finally available, they’ll be even more reliable and offer more range. These long-lasting batteries will also reduce waste since they usually last the lifetime of the car, and are easily recyclable, further reducing pollution.

Cleaning up the EV ‘dirt’

Several methods are also being developed to recycle old batteries, reducing the overall environmental impact. As the years go on, overall pollution levels will also reduce thanks to the adoption of renewable sources of electricity production. It is predicted that, if the electricity grid utilizes over 80% of energy from renewable resources, the overall emissions of an EV will reduce to 60% compared to today.

Another reason for the adoption of EVs nowadays is the easy availability of chargers. In most states, chargers are popping up everywhere.

Combined with modern-day batteries that can match a regular IC car in terms of range, EV ownership has become a lot more convenient and cheaper.

With all automotive research starting to focus on the EV space, we can expect the next generation to come with solid-state batteries and other technologies which can charge up in a matter of minutes.

Conclusion

While EVs may pollute more in the initial years due to manufacturing, it more than makes up for it after covering several thousand miles, making them a viable alternative to IC cars. As more and more manufacturers develop efficient batteries and production methods, the ecological footprint will further reduce as time goes on.

Especially with all the manufacturer’s already setting deadlines for transition and halting IC research. The market transitioning to EVs will certainly help reduce global pollution levels substantially in the coming years.