EV Myth: EVs Pollute More Than Fossil Fuel Vehicles

March 17, 2024

There’s a persistent misconception that electric vehicles are not environmentally friendly, often fueled by concerns about pollution from battery mining and manufacturing, particularly in regions like China, where coal-fired grids power some car and battery factories. However, studies by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) have revealed that when driven in Europe, an EV typically offsets its carbon debt after approximately 11,000 miles. Beyond this point, the full life cycle CO₂ emissions of an EV are approximately three times lower than those of an average petrol car.

Further corroborating this, a Carbon Brief analysis in 2023 demonstrated that a Tesla Model Y, driven in the UK, would offset its carbon debt after roughly 13,000 miles – equivalent to less than two years of driving. By contrast, after 14 years of operation, the average petrol car leaves a carbon footprint of 45 tonnes of CO₂. In comparison, a Tesla Model Y driven over the same period in the UK emits just 14 tonnes of CO₂ – representing a substantial 68% reduction in emissions. Calculations by Transport and Environment show that over its lifetime, the average combustion car burns a towering stack of oil barrels 25 stories high.

And we shouldn’t forget that battery electric vehicles have zero tailpipe emissions, meaning that from an air quality point of view, they are already far less polluting than their fossil fuel counterparts. In cities, one of the main sources of air pollution is road traffic; cars, vans, buses and lorries. The World Health Organisation (WHO) says car exhaust emissions from road transport account for up to 30% of fine PM in urban areas, and 28% of nitrogen dioxide.

Lastly, many believe that synthetic ‘e-fuels’ are a low-polluting alternative to fossil fuels, however analysis shows that whist considered C0₂ neutral by classification, e-fuel vehicles would still emit around 5 times more CO₂ emissions that EVs, and still emit air pollutants including toxic nitrogen oxides and carcinogenic particles.


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