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EVs or fuel cars -- comparing their carbon footprints


Electric cars Vs internal combustion engine (ICE)-powered cars -- which is more harmful to the environment? A debate on this is going on out there. It is interesting to note that carbon emissions are released throughout the life-cycle of a car — be it ICE-powered or battery-run.

EVs or fuel cars -- comparing their carbon footprints
Electric vehicles (EVs) are being seen as the future of mobility and governments across the globe are pushing battery-run cars to reduce air pollution in cities. However, the increased focus on EVs has also brought some environment-unfriendly aspects of these battery-run cars to the fore. There is a section that even believes that EVs cause more damage to the environment than internal combustion engine (ICE)-powered cars.
EVs charge on power that comes from the electric grid which is often powered by fossil fuels.
So, let's find out if EVs are actually more eco-friendly than the cars that run on diesel or petrol.
Fuel vehicles Vs Electric Vehicles: A comparative analysis:
Carbon emissions are released throughout the life-cycle of a car — be it ICE-powered or battery-run. The stages of emissions can be broadly divided into three -- production, usage, and scrapping of the car.
Now, the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere when the car is scrapped is relatively low and according to a Yale University study, both ICE-powered and electric cars cause the same amount of pollution when they are trashed. So, experts usually compare the ecological harm caused to the environment by electric and combustion engine cars on the basis of the emissions released during their production and usage stages.
Coming to production, a study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology estimates that the manufacturing of an average car releases about 2 metric tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere. However, the production of a luxury car may release about 17 metric tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere. So, following the apples-to-apples concept, the comparison has been made between an electric car and a fuel vehicle of the same segment.
With that disclaimer out of the way, let's look at the production stage first. Almost all studies have shown that the production of electric cars causes more harm to the environment than the production of a combustion car. This is primarily because of the heavy battery used in electric cars. So, if the production of a fuel car releases 10 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide, the manufacturing of an EV generates 15.3 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide.
However, fuel cars lose this edge when it comes to the usage of the vehicle. According to the United States Department of Energy, an average fuel car releases 5.2 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide per year. The figure has been reached after keeping the yearly commute distance at 19,300 km. On the other hand, a study by the Alternative Fuel Data Centre of the US reveals that an electric car produces 2.2 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide for the same distance.
Using this emission data, it is safe to conclude that an electric car and a fuel car are equally harmful to the environment for the first 20 months or so. The difference kicks in thereafter. After the first 20 months, electric cars are way less polluting than their ICE-powered counterparts.
Even if we extend this EV vs ICE debate to lithium extraction and oil drilling, electric cars will still be the slightly better option. Sceptics of EVs often point out that the extraction of lithium-ion — a crucial component of EVs — is damaging to the environment. While the argument is not without merit, it must also be taken into consideration that lithium ions make up for just 5-7 percent of the EV battery. Further, lithium extraction, although a water-intensive process, takes place in desolate places where no life can survive. For instance, the Atacama desert in Chile. In contrast, oil drilling takes place on ocean beds which disrupts marine life in the area.
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