CORRECTION, April 25, 2019: This article originally ran under the headline, “Scam of the Century: Scientific Study Destroys Electric Car Debate.” We have revised the headline to read, “Scam of the Century: Scientific Study Destroys ‘Zero Emissions’ Argument,” which more accurately describes the point of the article — we fully acknowledge that some arguments in favor of increasing the adoption of battery-powered cars have not been “destroyed.” As such, we’ve also adjusted the wording of one sentence in the article that stated that those who were thought they are “doing the environment a favor” by driving battery-powered cars were “wrong,” instead inviting them to examine that thinking more closely.
We apologize for the potentially misleading rhetoric and any confusion it may have caused.
If you think you’re saving the environment by driving a Tesla, well, let me let you in on a bit of a secret: You could perhaps emit less carbon if you went with a diesel car.
The findings of a new study by a group of German scientists seem counterintuitive at first. They found that electric vehicles in their home country accounted for more emissions than those smoggy diesels.
Until, that is, you realize that “zero emissions” vehicles aren’t really so zero emissions.
“When CO2 emissions linked to the production of batteries and the German energy mix — in which coal still plays an important role — are taken into consideration, electric vehicles emit 11% to 28% more than their diesel counterparts, according to the study, presented on Wednesday at the Ifo Institute in Munich,” the Brussels Times reported.
“Mining and processing the lithium, cobalt and manganese used for batteries consume a great deal of energy,” the report said. “A Tesla Model 3 battery, for example, represents between 11 and 15 tonnes of CO2.
“Given a lifetime of 10 years and an annual travel distance of 15,000 kilometres, this translates into 73 to 98 grams of CO2 per kilometre, scientists Christoph Buchal, Hans-Dieter Karl and Hans-Werner Sinn noted in their study.”
When you factor in the energy needed to charge the batteries, this ups that total to 156 to 180 grams of CO2 per kilometer.
The study’s authors recommended that instead of pushing for the adoption of “zero emission” electric cars, European officials should instead move toward other sources of power for automobiles — namely methane, “whose emissions are one-third less than those of diesel motors.”
This, by the way, is hardly the only study that’s questioned whether electric cars are really as environmentally friendly as their proponents claim.
A 2017 study by researchers at the University of Michigan found that the amount of CO2 emitted by electric cars varied wildly by country, but it certainly wasn’t zero.
“The report — authored by Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle — notes that an electric car recharged by a coal-fired plant produces as much CO2 as a gasoline-powered car that gets 29 miles per gallon,” Investors Business Daily reported. “(For context, the average mpg of all the cars, SUVs, vans and light trucks sold in the U.S. over the past year is 25.2 mpg.) A plug-in recharged by a natural gas-powered plant is like driving a car that gets 58 miles per gallon.
“Solar, wind and geothermal do far better on this score, but they generate a small portion of the nation’s electricity. More than 64% of electricity is generated by coal, natural gas or other fossil fuels.
“The U of M researchers calculate that, given the energy mix in the U.S., the average plug-in produces as much CO2 as a conventional car that gets 55.4 miles per gallon.”
That’s not terrible, but it’s not great, either. And keep in mind, the cost of electricity goes up the more renewables you throw into the mix, which dissuades people from adopting them.
For other countries, the cars fare even worse. In China, which has been pushing widespread adoption of electric vehicles, the cars put out as much CO2 as a car that gets 40 miles per gallon.
“And even this exaggerates the environmental benefits of electric cars because the report doesn’t take into account the additional CO2 emissions involved in making batteries,” the IBD report said.
“A separate study from the Union of Concerned Scientists found that, depending on the type of plug-in being built, manufacturing a battery-powered car generates anywhere from 15% to 68% more CO2 emissions than a conventional gas-powered car,” the report said. “The reason is that producing the batteries is incredibly energy intensive.”
Now, if you like owning an electric car, that’s fine. But if your reason for owning it is that you think you’re doing the environment a favor, you may have another think coming.
The idea that these vehicles have “zero emissions” might be one of the biggest scams of the 21st century, particularly given how expensive renewable energy currently is.
No matter what owners of these vehicles may believe, smug can’t eliminate smog.
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