Analysis: When do electric vehicles become cleaner than gasoline cars?
The rapid evolution of battery technology has made affordable electric vehicles (EV) a reality, providing a breakthrough of sorts in humanity’s efforts to fight climate change. However, it turns out it is not as straight forward as that as the extraction and processing of minerals in EV batteries makes manufacturing EVs far more carbon heavy than their internal-combustion engine counterparts. Reuters has analysed data from a model developed by the Argonne National Laboratory including “thousands of parameters from the type of metals in an electric vehicle (EV) battery to the amount of aluminium or plastic in a car.”
“Jarod Cory Kelly, principal energy systems analyst at Argonne, said making EVs generates more carbon than combustion engine cars, mainly due to the extraction and processing of minerals in EV batteries and production of the power cells.
But estimates as to how big that carbon gap is when a car is first sold and where the “break-even” point comes for EVs during their lifetime can vary widely, depending on the assumptions.
Kelly said the payback period then depends on factors such as the size of the EV’s battery, the fuel economy of a gasoline car and how the power used to charge an EV is generated.”
The model showed that the break-even distance for a Tesla 3 to become less harmful to the environment was 13,500 miles.
“The Tesla 3 scenario above was for driving in the United States, where 23% of electricity comes from coal-fired plants, with a 54 kilowatt-hour (kWh) battery and a cathode made of nickel, cobalt and aluminum, among other variables.
It was up against a gasoline-fueled Toyota Corolla weighing 2,955 pounds with a fuel efficiency of 33 miles per gallon. It was assumed both vehicles would travel 173,151 miles during their lifetimes.
But if the same Tesla was being driven in Norway, which generates almost all its electricity from renewable hydropower, the break-even point would come after just 8,400 miles.
If the electricity to recharge the EV comes entirely from coal, which generates the majority of the power in countries such as China and Poland, you would have to drive 78,700 miles to reach carbon parity with the Corolla, according to the Reuters analysis of data generated by Argonne’s model.”