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Electric vehicles initiative, electric vehicles initiative campaigns.

  • Trends and developments in electric light-duty vehicles
  • Trends and developments in electric heavy-duty vehicles
  • Private sector commitment and other electrification trends
  • Deployment of vehicle-charging infrastructure
  • Are we entering the era of the electric vehicle?
  • Policies affecting the electric light-duty vehicle market
  • Policies affecting the electric heavy-duty vehicle market
  • Outlook for electric mobility
  • Charging infrastructure
  • Implications for electric mobility
  • References for figures

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IEA (2021), Global EV Outlook 2021 , IEA, Paris, Licence: CC BY 4.0

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Vehicle manufacturers and policy makers are boosting their attention and actions related to electric vehicles (EVs). EV technologies such as full battery electric and plug-in hybrid electric models are attactive options to help reach environmental, societal and health objectives.

In addition to being two- to four-times more efficient than conventional internal combustion engine models , EVs can reduce reliance on oil-based fuels and, if running on low-carbon power, can deliver significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Plus, with zero tailpipe emissions, EVs are well suited to help solve air pollution issues. Moreover, EVs are driving advances in battery technology – a key issue for industrial competitiveness in the transition to clean energy.

EV fleets are expanding at a fast pace in several of the world’s largest vehicle markets. The costs of batteries and EVs are dropping. Charging infrastructure is expanding. This progress promotes electrification of transport modes such as two/three-wheelers, light-duty vehicles (LDVs) (cars and vans), taxis and shared vehicles, buses and heavy-duty vehicles with short range requirements such as urban deliveries. Manufacturers are continuing to expand the number of EV models available to customers.

Effective policies still needed to address upfront investment costs, promote EV charging infrastructure and ensure a smooth integration of charging demand in power systems. With foundations being laid for widespread adoption of EVs in several large economies, there are strong prospects that the 2020s will be the decade in which electric mobility significantly expands.

The Global EV Outlook 2021 – the flagship annual publication of the Electric Vehicles Initiative – analyses the worldwide status of electric mobility. It considers the factors that have influenced recent developments, technological prospects and the outlook for EV deployment in the period to 2030. The analysis is presented in three chapters:

Chapter 1 discusses trends in electric mobility with historical data on EV registrations and stock, and availability of charging infrastructure to the end of 2020. It explores the main factors driving electrification of road transport, including roll-out plans from the private sector and other developments to April 2021.

Chapter 2 provides an overview of the current policy framework relevant to both light-duty and heavy-duty EVs to April 2021. It highlights measures undertaken by governments to shield the EV market from the impact of the Covid-19 panademic.

Chapter 3 presents the outlook for EVs and chargers to 2030. It assesses their impacts on energy use, greenhouse gas emissions, battery production volumes and revenue from taxes.

Electric Vehicles Initiative aims to accelerate EV deployment

The Electric Vehicles Initiative (EVI) is a multi-governmental policy forum established in 2010 under the Clean Energy Ministerial (CEM). Recognising the opportunities offered by EVs, the EVI is dedicated to accelerating the adoption of EVs worldwide.To do so, it strives to better understand the policy challenges related to electric mobility, help governments address them and to serve as a platform for knowledge sharing.

The EVI facilitates exchanges between government policy makers that are committed to supporting EV development and a variety of partners, bringing them together twice a year. Its multilateral nature, openness to various stakeholders and  engagement at different levels of governance (from country to city-level) offer fruitful opportunities to exchange information and to learn from experiences developed by a range of actors in the transition to electric mobility.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) serves as the co-ordinator to support the EVI member governments in this activity. Governments that have been active in the EVI in the 2020-21 period include Canada, Chile, People’s Republic of China (hereafter “China”), Finland, France, Germany, India, Japan, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Sweden and United Kingdom. Canada and China co-lead the initiative. Greece and Ghana are observers.

The EVI also helps to raise the ambition levels for electric mobitlity worldwide through the linked CEM campaigns of EV30@30 and Global Commercial Vehicle Drive to Zero Campaign, each endorsed by different members.

Electric Vehicles Initiative logo

EVI co-lead are China and Canada.

EV30@30 and the Drive to Zero campaigns support EV deployment

EV30@30 Campaign

The EV30@30 Campaign was launched at the CEM meeting in 2017 to spur the deployment of EVs. It sets a collective aspirational goal for EVs (excluding two/three-wheelers) to reach 30% sales share by 2030 across all signatory countries. This is the benchmark against which progress is to be measured for the EVI members.  Fourteen countries endorsed the campaign: Canada; Chile; China; Finland; France; Germany; India; Japan; Mexico; Netherlands; Norway; Portugal; Sweden and United Kingdom. In addition, 30 companies and organisations support the campaign, including: C40; FIA Foundation; Global Fuel Economy Initiative; Hewlett Foundation; Natural Resources Defence Council; REN21; SLoCaT; The Climate Group; UN Environment Programme; UN Habitat; World Resources Institute; ZEV Alliance; ChargePoint; Energias de Portugal; Enel X; E.ON; Fortum; Iberdrola; Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance; Schneider Electric; TEPCO; Vattenfall and ChargeUp Europe.

Coordinated by the IEA, the campaign includes five implementing actions to help achieve the goal in accordance with the priorities and programmes of each EVI member country.

These include:

  • Support and track the deployment of EV chargers.
  • Galvanise public and private sector commitments to incorporate EVs in company and supplier fleets.
  • Scale up policy research and information exchanges.
  • Support governments through training and capacity building.
  • Establish the Global EV Pilot City Programme to achieve 100 EV-Friendly Cities over five years.

Drive to Zero Campaign

The Global Commercial Vehicle Drive to Zero Campaign was launched at the 2020 CEM meeting and operates as part of the EVI. The campaign, administered by CALSTART , a clean transport non-profit organisation, aims to bring governments and leading industry stakeholders together to collaboratively develop policies, programmes and actions that can support the rapid manufacture and deployment of zero-emission commercial vehicles. Drive to Zero counts more than 100 pledge partners, including nine national governments (as of April 2020) and leading state, provincial and regional governments and agencies from across the world.

Implementing actions of the EV30@30 campaign

GEF-7 Global Programme on electromobility

The GEF-7 Global Electric Mobility Programme, funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), will be launched in the second-half of 2021 to help low and middle-income countries shift to electromobility. The programme plans to implement one global project and 27 country projects over a five-year period. The IEA together with the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) will lead the global project, which aims to expand and complement the work of the EVI. Under the global project, the IEA and UNEP along with working groups (focusing on LDVs, two/three-wheelers, heavy-duty vehicles and system integration and batteries) will develop knowledge products to help inform the country projects, with knowledge transfers supported by regional platforms (Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America/Caribbean). In addition, the data tracking framework used for the annual Global EV Outlook reports will be extended to the countries participating in the programme. In part, programme activities will be implemented in collaboration with the European Commission SOLUTIONSPlus Project – an initiative funded by the European Union Horizon 2020 which is focused on EV deployment in urban areas.

EVI Global EV Pilot City Programme

The EVI Global EV Pilot City Programme was launched in May 2018 at the 9 th CEM as an initiative of the EV30@30 campaign. It aims to build a network of at least 100 cities over an initial period of five years to work together on the promotion of electric mobility. Its central pillars are to facilitate information exchanges between cities and to encourage best practices, for example through webinars and workshops. Another important element is to develop analytical outputs and reports to help cities and other stakeholders learn from previous experiences of member cities. In March 2021, the EVI Pilot City Programme and the Hybrid and Electric Vehicle Technology Collaboration Programme ( HEV TCP ) jointly released the third EV Cities Casebook and Policy Guide . It aims to inspire a move towards mass electric mobility by showcasing cities building better and cleaner mobility with EVs. The casebook looks at global case studies of EV innovation, issues policy guidance, and provides analysis of common challenges and lessons learned in order to foster global uptake of electric vehicles in urban areas. The IEA and the Shanghai International Automobile City serve as the joint secretariat of the EVI Global EV Pilot City Programme.

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Science News

How electric vehicles offered hope as climate challenges grew.

In the midst of a climate crisis, the EV began to gain traction

a photo of workers in an automobile factory working on electric vehicles

Volkswagen employees in Emden, Germany, learn how to produce electric cars, as auto­makers respond to new carbon dioxide emissions limits.

Sina Schuldt/picture alliance via Getty Images

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By Carolyn Gramling

December 22, 2021 at 7:00 am

This was another year of bleak climate news. Record heat waves baked the Pacific Northwest . Wildfires raged in California, Oregon, Washington and neighboring states. Tropical cyclones rapidly intensified in the Pacific Ocean. And devastating flash floods inundated Western Europe and China. Human-caused climate change is sending the world hurtling down a road to more extreme weather events, and we’re running out of time to pump the brakes, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned in August ( SN: 9/11/21, p. 8 ).

The world needs to dramatically reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, and fast, if there’s any hope of preventing worse and more frequent extreme weather events. That means shifting to renewable sources of energy — and, importantly, decarbonizing transportation, a sector that is now responsible for about a quarter of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions.

But the path to that cleaner future is daunting, clogged with political and societal roadblocks, as well as scientific obstacles. Perhaps that’s one reason why the electric vehicle — already on the road, already navigating many of these roadblocks — swerved so dramatically into the climate solutions spotlight in 2021.

Just a few years ago, many automakers thought electric vehicles, or EVs, might be a passing fad, says Gil Tal, director of the Plug-in Hybrid & Electric Vehicle Research Center at the University of California, Davis. “It’s now clear to everyone that [EVs are] here to stay.”

Globally, EV sales surged in the first half of 2021, increasing by 160 percent compared with the previous year. Even in 2020 — when most car sales were down due to the COVID-19 pandemic — EV sales were up 46 percent relative to 2019. Meanwhile, automakers from General Motors to Volkswagen to Nissan have outlined plans to launch new EV models over the next decade: GM pledged to go all-electric by 2035, Honda by 2040. Ford introduced electric versions of its iconic Mustang and F-150 pickup truck.

Consumer demand for EVs isn’t actually driving the surge in sales, Tal says. The real engine is a change in supply due to government policies pushing automakers to boost their EV production. The European Union’s toughened CO 2 emissions laws for the auto industry went into effect in 2021, and automakers have already bumped up new EV production in the region. China mandated in 2020 that EVs make up 40 percent of new car sales by 2030. Costa Rica has set official phase-out targets for internal combustion engines.

In the United States, where transportation has officially supplanted power generation as the top greenhouse gas–emitting sector, President Joe Biden’s administration set a goal this year of having 50 percent of new U.S. vehicle sales be electric — both plug-in hybrid and all-electric — by 2030. That’s a steep rise over EVs’ roughly 2.5 percent share of new cars sold in the United States today. In September, California announced that by 2035 all new cars and passenger trucks sold in the state must be zero-emission.

There are concrete signs that automakers are truly committing to EVs. In September, Ford announced plans to build two new complexes in Tennessee and Kentucky to produce electric trucks and batteries. Climate change–related energy crises, such as the February failure of Texas’ power system, may also boost interest in EVs, Ford CEO Jim Farley said September 28 on the podcast Columbia Energy Exchange.

“We’re seeing more extreme weather events with global warming, and so people are looking at these vehicles not just for propulsion but for … other benefits,” Farley said. “One of the most popular features of the F-150 Lightning is the fact that you can power your house for three days” with the truck’s battery.

More to navigate

Although the EV market is growing fast, it’s still not fast enough to meet the Paris Agreement goals, the International Energy Agency reported this year. For the world to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 — when carbon emissions added to the atmosphere are balanced by carbon removal — EVs would need to climb from the current 5 percent of global car sales to 60 percent by 2030 , the agency found.

As for the United States, even if the Biden administration’s plan for EVs comes to fruition, the country’s transportation sector will still fall short of its emissions targets, researchers reported in 2020 in Nature Climate Change . To hit those targets, electric cars would need to make up 90 percent of new U.S. car sales by 2050 — or people would need to drive a lot less.

And to truly supplant fossil fuel vehicles, electric options need to meet several benchmarks. Prices for new and used EVs must come down. Charging stations must be available and affordable to all, including people who don’t live in homes where they can plug in. And battery ranges must be extended. Average ranges have been improving. Just five or so years ago, cars needed a recharge after about 100 miles; today the average is about 250 miles, roughly the distance from Washington, D.C., to New York City. But limited ranges and too few charging stations remain a sticking point.

Today’s batteries also require metals that are scarce, difficult to access or produced in mining operations rife with serious human rights issues . Although there, too, solutions may be on the horizon, including finding ways to recycle batteries to alleviate materials shortages ( SN: 12/4/21, p. 4 ).

EVs on their own are nowhere near enough to forestall the worst effects of climate change. But it won’t be possible to slow global warming without them.

And in a year with a lot of grim climate news — both devastating extreme events and maddeningly stalled political action — EVs offered one glimmer of hope.

“We have the technology. It’s not dependent on some technology that’s not developed yet,” Tal says. “The hope is that now we are way more willing to [transition to EVs] than at any time before.”

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A car transporter carries new Tesla Model 3 vehicles along the highway, California, US. Credit: Andrei Stanescu / Alamy Stock Photo. R6HR26

  • Factcheck: How electric vehicles help to tackle climate change

global warming evs project introduction

Zeke Hausfather

Update 7/2/2020: The lifecycle emissions figures were revised to reflect more recent data on electricity carbon intensity and battery manufacture.

Electric vehicles (EVs) are an important part of meeting global goals on climate change. They feature prominently in mitigation pathways that limit warming to well-below 2C or 1.5C, which would be inline with the Paris Agreement ’s targets.

However, while no greenhouse gas emissions directly come from EVs, they run on electricity that is, in large part, still produced from fossil fuels in many parts of the world. Energy is also used to manufacture the vehicle – and, in particular, the battery.

Here, in response to recent misleading media reports on the topic, Carbon Brief provides a detailed look at the climate impacts of EVs. In this analysis, Carbon Brief finds:

  • EVs are responsible for considerably lower emissions over their lifetime than conventional (internal combustion engine) vehicles across Europe as a whole.
  • In countries with coal-intensive electricity generation, the benefits of EVs are smaller and they can have similar lifetime emissions to the most efficient conventional vehicles – such as hybrid-electric models.
  • However, as countries decarbonise electricity generation to meet their climate targets, driving emissions will fall for existing EVs and manufacturing emissions will fall for new EVs.
  •  In the UK in 2019, the lifetime emissions per kilometre of driving a Nissan Leaf EV were about three times lower than for the average conventional car, even before accounting for the falling carbon intensity of electricity generation during the car’s lifetime.
  • Comparisons between electric vehicles and conventional vehicles are complex. They depend on the size of the vehicles, the accuracy of the fuel-economy estimates used, how electricity emissions are calculated, what driving patterns are assumed, and even the weather in regions where the vehicles are used. There is no single estimate that applies everywhere.

There are also large uncertainties around the emissions associated with electric vehicle battery production, with different studies producing widely differing numbers. As battery prices fall and vehicle manufacturers start including larger batteries with longer driving ranges, battery production emissions can have a larger impact on the climate benefits of electric vehicles.

Around half of the emissions from battery production come from the electricity used in manufacturing and assembling the batteries. Producing batteries in regions with relatively low-carbon electricity or in factories powered by renewable energy, as will be the case for the batteries used in the best-selling Tesla Model 3 , can substantially reduce battery emissions.

Different studies find different results

A recent working paper from a group of German researchers at the thinktank Institute for Economic Research ( ifo ) found that “electric vehicles will barely help cut CO2 emissions in Germany over the coming years”. It suggests that, in Germany, “the CO2 emissions of battery-electric vehicles are, in the best case, slightly higher than those of a diesel engine”.

This study was picked up in the international media, with the Wall Street Journal running an editorial titled, “ Germany’s dirty green cars ”. It also engendered pushback from electric vehicle advocates, with articles in Jalopnik and Autoblog , as well as individual researchers rebutting the claim.

Other recent studies of electric cars in Germany have reached the opposite conclusion. One study found that emissions from EVs have emissions up to 43% lower than diesel vehicles. Another detailed that “in all cases examined, electric cars have lower lifetime climate impacts than those with internal combustion engines”.

These differences arise from the assumptions used by researchers. As Prof Jeremy Michalek , director of the Vehicle Electrification Group at Carnegie Mellon University , tells Carbon Brief, “which technology comes out on top depends on a lot of things”. These include which specific vehicles are being compared, what electricity grid mix is assumed, if marginal or average electricity emissions are used, what driving patterns are assumed, and even the weather.

The figure below, adapted from an analysis by the International Council for Clean Transportation ( ICCT ), shows an estimate of lifecycle emissions for a typical European conventional (internal combustion engine) car, the hybrid conventional car with the best available fuel economy (a 2019 Toyota Prius Eco ), and a Nissan Leaf electric vehicle for various countries, as well as the EU average. [The Leaf was the top selling EV in Europe in 2018.]

The chart includes tailpipe emissions (grey), emissions from the fuel cycle (orange) – which includes oil production, transport, refining, and electricity generation – emissions from manufacturing the non-battery components of the vehicle (dark blue) and a conservative estimate of emissions from manufacturing the battery (light blue).

In most countries, the majority of emissions over the lifetime of both electric and conventional vehicles come from vehicle operation – tailpipe and fuel cycle – rather than vehicle manufacture. The exception is in countries – Norway or France, for example – where nearly all electricity comes from near-zero carbon sources, such as hydroelectric or nuclear power.

However, while the carbon emitted from burning a gallon of petrol or diesel cannot be reduced, the same is not true for electricity. Lifecycle emissions for electric vehicles are much smaller in countries such as France (which gets most of its electricity from nuclear) or Norway (from renewables).

The chart above bases electric-vehicle emissions on the current grid mix in each country. However, if the climate targets set in the Paris Agreement are to be met, electricity generation will become significantly less carbon-intensive, further increasing the advantage of electric vehicles over conventional ones.

For example, in the UK, emissions from electricity generation have fallen 38% in just the past three years and are expected to fall by more than 70% by the mid-to-late 2020s, which is well within the lifetime of electric vehicles purchased today.

Emissions associated with battery production are taken from the most recent (2019) estimate from the IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute . The Nissan Leaf analysed here has a 40 kilowatt hour (kWh) battery, while the Tesla Model 3 has both 50kWh or 75kWh options (a 62kWh option was previously available, but has been discontinued ).

The figure below shows the estimated lifecycle emissions from a Model 3 if the battery were produced in Asia – which has a large portion of its electricity generated from coal – as is the case for Nissan Leaf batteries. The long-range 75kWh model is used for this analysis, to mimic the approach in the ifo study; battery-manufacturing emissions from the mid-range 50kWh model would be around a third smaller.

Under these assumptions, a Tesla Model 3 would have higher lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions than the best-rated conventional car in Germany, but would still be better for the climate than the average vehicle. In other countries even a long-range Tesla Model 3 would be more lower emissions than any petrol vehicle.

However, the fact that the Tesla batteries are, in fact, manufactured in Nevada makes an important difference to this calculation. Lifecycle emissions estimates for batteries produced in the US tend to be notably lower than those produced in Asia, as discussed later in this article.

Around 50% of the battery lifecycle emissions come from the electricity used in battery manufacture and assembly, so producing batteries in a plant powered by renewable energy – as will be the case for the Tesla factory – substantially reduces lifetime emissions. The figure below shows Carbon Brief’s estimate of lifecycle emissions from a Tesla Model 3 with batteries produced in the Tesla “ Gigafactory ”.

Taking manufacturing conditions into account, a Model 3 with a 75kWh battery from the Nevada Gigafactory results in notably smaller emissions – and has a lifecycle climate impact similar to the estimate for the Nissan Leaf.

Emissions from electricity generation will also vary within countries, with some regions having much cleaner generation mixes (and correspondingly larger climate advantages for EVs) than others.

The figures shown above adjust emissions for both conventional and electric vehicles to reflect real-world driving conditions rather than test-cycle numbers. This is important, as official fuel economy estimates can differ widely from real-world performance, with large knock-on impacts for the comparison between conventional and electric vehicles.

Paying back the carbon debt

The analysis in the figures above compares EVs and conventional vehicles over their entire lifetime, based on a total of 150,000km of driving.

However, it’s also possible to compare the vehicles over time, to see how long it would take to repay the initial “carbon debt” incurred by the production of a carbon-intensive battery pack for EVs.

For example, as already noted above, a new Nissan Leaf EV bought in the UK in 2019 would have lifetime emissions some three times lower than the average new conventional car.

Looking at this over time, in the figure below, shows that while the battery causes higher emissions during vehicle manufacture in “year zero”, this excess carbon debt would be paid back after less than two years of driving.

Annual global CO2 emissions from fossil fuels and cement as well as from land use, land-use change and forestry

The chart above shows that the difference in use-phase emissions is relatively large, with the EV saving some two to three tonnes of CO2 equivalent each year in the UK. (The figure falls over time as the electricity mix gets cleaner).

Annual global CO2 emissions from fossil fuels and cement as well as from land use, land-use change and forestry

This equation would become even clearer were it not for the generous assumption that the existing conventional car has emissions equal to the average new vehicle.

Note that the cumulative lifetime emissions charts above are based on mileage of 150,000km over 12 years, or some 7,800 miles per year, for consistency with the remainder of the article.

This figure is slightly higher than the UK average annual mileage, which fell closer to 7,100 miles in 2017. Even at this lower mileage, however, replacing an existing conventional car with an EV would start cutting emissions within just over four years.

Problematic fuel economy estimates

The ifo study provides an example of the potential pitfalls of using test-cycle fuel economy values instead of real-world performance. The study compared the lifetime emissions from a Mercedes C 220 to the new Tesla Model 3, taking into account emissions associated with vehicle production. It found that the Tesla had emissions between 90% and 125% of the Mercedes over the lifetime of the vehicle.

In other words, despite the headlines it generated, even ifo found that EVs ranged from being slightly better to somewhat worse than a diesel vehicle.

The study assumed a fuel economy of 52 miles per gallon (mpg) for the Mercedes, which is significantly higher than the average car in the US (25mpg for petrol vehicles), but similar to average fuel economy in the UK (52mpg for petrol vehicles and 61mpg for diesel vehicles). However, different fuel-economy testing procedures produce quite different results.

While the US EPA fuel economy numbers tend to reflect actual driving conditions, the New European Driving Cycle (NEDC) values used in the EU exaggerate actual vehicle fuel economy by up to 50% – and potentially even more for Mercedes vehicles.

The Tesla Model 3 energy use assumed in the study (241 watt-hours per mile), by contrast, is only 8% smaller than the EPA estimates of real-world use (260 watt-hours/mile). Using more realistic estimates of fuel economy for the conventional vehicle would have a large effect on the results of the ifo analysis, making the EV option preferable to the conventional vehicle.

Large differences in battery emissions

Both the ifo study and the ICCT analysis rely on the same estimate of emissions from battery manufacturing: a 2017 study by the Swedish Environmental Research Institute ( IVL ). IVL examined studies published between 2010 and 2016, and concluded that battery manufacturing emissions are likely between 150 and 200 kg CO2-equivalent per kWh of battery capacity.

The majority of studies examined by IVL looked at battery production in Asia, rather than in the US or Europe. The IVL study also noted that battery technology was evolving rapidly and that there is great potential for reduction in manufacturing emissions.

The IVL study came under considerable criticism , and in late 2019 received a substantial revision . The IVL researchers now estimate that battery manufacturing emissions are actually between 61 and 106 kg CO2-equivalent per kWh, with an upper bound of 146 kg. The low end estimate of 61 kg is for cases when the energy used from battery manufacturing comes from zero-carbon sources. IVL suggests that this revision was driven by new data for cell production, including more realistic measurements of energy use for commercial-scale battery factories that have substantially expanded in scale and output in recent years.

Carbon Brief undertook its own assessment of the literature to find recently published estimates of lifecycle emissions from battery manufacturing. The figure below shows data from 17 different studies, including seven published after the 2017 IVL estimate. It divides studies based on the region in which the batteries were produced: Asia (in red), Europe (light blue), US (dark blue) and reviews that examine multiple regions (grey).

Most of the studies published in recent years show lifecycle emissions smaller than those in the original IVL study, with an average of around 100kg CO2 per kWh for those published after 2017. These new estimates are well in-line with the revised 2019 IVL study numbers. Manufacturing emission estimates are generally higher in Asia than in Europe or the US, reflecting the widespread use of coal for electricity generation in the region. Studies that directly compared batteries manufactured in Asia to those in the US or Europe found lifecycle emissions around 20% lower outside of Asia.

A number of studies break down emissions into mining, refining and other material production that happens off-site, as well as the actual manufacturing process where the battery is assembled. These tend to find that about half the lifecycle emissions are a result of off-site material production and half result from electricity used in the manufacturing process. This is shown in the table below, taken from the 2017 IVL report, which breaks down lifecycle emissions by component and manufacturing stage.

Lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions from battery manufacture by component and manufacturing stage in kg CO2-equivalent per kWh battery capacity. Table 19 from Romare & Dahllof 2017.

As the IVL study notes:

“Manufacturing stands for a large part of the production impact…This implies that production location and/or electricity mix has great potential to impact the results.”

This is an important factor to consider when estimating battery emissions from Tesla’s Gigafactory in Nevada, which produced all of the batteries currently used in Model 3 vehicles.

Nevada, where Tesla’s Gigafactory is located, has electricity that is, on average, around 30% lower in carbon intensity than the US average. Nevada has phased out nearly all of its coal-based power generation over the past two decades, as shown in the figure below.

Nevada electricity generation mix from 2001 through 2017, from the New York Times.

Tesla recently began construction of the world’s largest solar roof on top of its Gigafactory, which, when coupled with battery storage, should provide nearly all of the electricity used by the facility.

The image below shows the current status of solar panel installation as of 18 April  2019, though the plan is for nearly the entire roof to be covered by panels when the installation is complete.

Tesla Gigafactory solar roof installation in-progress as of 18 April 2019. Image from Teslarati.

The Gigafactory was also built with a focus on energy efficiency, employing material reuse when possible. However, it is unclear what the actual energy use and emissions associated with battery production at the site are as Tesla has not released any figures.

Given the lower lifecycle manufacturing emission estimates of studies in recent years – and the location of the manufacturing facility in a state with a relatively low-carbon electricity generation mix – Carbon Brief provides an estimate of 61kg CO2-equivalent per kWh based on the revised IVL study .

This is quite similar to a recent estimate for battery production in Germany by the Research Center for Energy Economics ( FFE ). FFE found that if batteries were produced using renewable energy, as is the goal for the Nevada Gigafactory, emissions would fall down to 62kg CO2-equivalent per kWh.

How and when electricity is generated matters

The climate benefit of EVs depend not only on the country where an EV is used, but also what region of the country it is used in. In the US, for example , there is a wide variation in how electricity is generated, with much cleaner electricity in places such as California or New York than in the middle parts of the country.

How the emissions from electricity generation are calculated is also important. While many analyses – including the ones earlier in this article – make use of the average emissions from electricity generation, Michalek tells Carbon Brief that using these values can produce somewhat misleading results.

It would be more accurate to use marginal emissions, Michalek says. This reflects emissions from the power plants turned on to meet new demand from EV charging. He explains:

“Some plants, like nuclear, hydro, wind and solar are generally fully utilised and will not change their generation output if you buy an EV. What changes, at least in the short run, is primarily that coal and natural gas plants will increase generation in response to this new load. So, if your question is ‘what will be the emissions consequences if I buy an EV versus a gasoline vehicle,’ which I think is the right question for policy, then the answer should use the consequential grid mix (for small changes this is the marginal generation mix) rather than the average. The marginal grid mix typically has higher emissions intensity than the average.”

However, the marginal emissions are something of a short-term estimate of EV impacts. As the demand from more EVs is added to the grid, gas and coal resources that are currently not being utilised may increase their output, but over the longer term additional generation sources will come online.

Michalek explains that the impact of EV adoption on future power plant construction is an area of active research.

In 2016, Michalek and colleagues published a paper in Environmental Research Letters taking into account a whole host of factors – including the marginal grid mix, ambient temperature, patterns of vehicle miles travelled and driving conditions (city versus highway) – in order to make the most accurate possible comparison between EV and similar conventional vehicles at the time.

The figure below shows their results. In the left column, the most efficient petrol vehicle – a Toyota Prius – is compared to one fully electric vehicle – a Nissan Leaf – and two plug-in electric hybrid vehicles – a Chevrolet Volt and a Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid. The right column shows the same analysis, but for a typical conventional vehicle of the same size – a Mazda 3. Each county in the country is colored red if the petrol vehicle has lower emissions and blue if the electric vehicle has lower emissions.

Difference in lifecycle emissions in grammes CO2-equivalent per mile driven for selected electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles (2013 Nissan Leaf BEV, 2013 Chevrolet Volt PHEV, and 2013 Prius PHEV) relative to selected gasoline vehicles (2010 Prius HEV and 2014 Mazda 3). Figure 2 in Yuksel et al 2016.

They found that the Nissan Leaf EV is considerably better than a similar typical conventional vehicle outside of parts of the Midwest that rely heavily on coal for marginal emissions. However, when compared to the most efficient conventional vehicle, the climate benefits of the EV were near-zero or negative in large parts of the country.

This study examines the current mix of electricity generation, which will likely become less carbon-intensive over the lifetime of vehicles operating today. However, the authors caution that the relationship between average emission reductions and marginal emission reductions is not always clearcut. Because marginal emissions come primarily from fossil-fuel plants, emission reductions for EV charging will occur mainly when gas displaces coal at the margin, or when widespread EV adoption requires bringing new low-carbon electricity generation facilities online to meet demand.

Electric vehicles ‘not a panacea’ without decarbonisation

In both the US and Europe, EVs represent a substantial reduction in lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions compared to the average conventional vehicle. This has been a consistent finding across the overwhelming majority of studies examined by Carbon Brief.

However, Michalek cautions that:

“EVs are not currently a panacea for climate change…lifecycle GHG emissions from electric vehicles can be similar to or even greater than the most efficient gasoline or diesel vehicles [in the US].”

As electricity generation becomes less carbon intensive – particularly at the margin – electric vehicles will become preferable to all conventional vehicles in virtually all cases. There are fundamental limitations on how efficient petrol and diesel vehicles can become, whereas low-carbon electricity and increased battery manufacturing efficiency can cut much of the manufacturing emissions and nearly all electricity use emissions from EVs.

A transition from conventional petrol and diesel vehicles to EVs plays a large role in mitigation pathways that limit warming to meet Paris Agreement targets. However, it depends on rapid decarbonisation of electricity generation to be effective. If countries do not replace coal and, to a lesser extent, gas, then electric vehicles will still remain far from being “zero emissions”.


US values in the first three figures were estimated by Carbon Brief based on US grid emission factors from EPA eGRID 2018 modified with Rhodium Group estimates for 2019 and electricity fuel cycle estimates from Michalek et al 2011 . Error bars reflect lifecycle battery manufacturing estimates ranging from 61 to 146kgCO2e per kWh (kgCO2e/kWh) used in the revised 2019 IVL study , with its central range being 61-100kgCO2e/kWh.

EU average and per-country grid emissions factors for 2019 were taken from Sandbag 2020 . Leaf emissions were based on a 40kWh battery, a fuel economy estimate of 26kWh per 100 miles and a conservative top-end central estimate of 100kgCO2/kWh for battery production.

The Peugeot 208 1.6 BlueHDi used in the original Hall and Lutsey 2018 figure was replaced by a 2019 Toyota Prius Eco hybrid car, which is more comparable in size to both the Leaf and Model 3 and has the highest fuel economy of any commercially available car, with a 56 miles per gallon EPA rating – which is similar to the fuel use in actual driving conditions .

Model 3 emissions were estimated using a fuel economy value of 25kWh per 100 miles for the long-range 75kWh battery model. Non-battery manufacturing emissions were assumed to be the same as those of the Nissan Leaf used in the ICCT analysis . Battery emissions from the Nevada Gigafactory were assumed to be at the bottom end of the central range from the IVL study – 61kgCO2e/kWh – based on the combination of a zero-carbon generation mix, the widespread use of efficiency measures in manufacturing and the use of on-site renewable energy as discussed in the article.

The following studies were used by Carbon Brief in the battery lifecycle emissions literature review:

Philippot, M. et al. (2019) Eco-Efficiency of a Lithium-Ion Battery for Electric Vehicles: Influence of Manufacturing Country and Commodity Prices on GHG Emissions and Costs, Batteries, doi:10.3390/batteries5010023

Regett, A. et al. (2018) Carbon footprint of electric vehicles – a plea for more objectivity, FFE white paper.

GREET model (2018) The Greenhouse gases, Regulated Emissions, and Energy use in Transportation Model, Argonne National Laboratory.

Messagie, M. (2017). Life Cycle Analysis of the Climate Impact of Electric Vehicles, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Transport & Environment white paper.

Han, H. et al (2017). GHG Emissions from the Production of Lithium-Ion Batteries for Electric Vehicles in China, Sustainability, doi:10.3390/su9040504

Romare, M. and Dahllöf, L. (2017) The Life Cycle Energy Consumption and Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Lithium-Ion Batteries, IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute white paper.

Wolfram, P. and Wiedmann, T. (2017) Electrifying Australian transport: Hybrid life cycle analysis of a transition to electric light-duty vehicles and renewable electricity, Applied Energy, doi:10.1016/j.apenergy.2017.08.219

Wang, Y. et al. (2017) Quantifying the environmental impact of a Li-rich high-capacity cathode material in electric vehicles via life cycle assessment, Environmental Science and Pollution Research, doi:10.1007/s11356-016-7849-9

Ambrose, H. and Kendall, A. (2016) Effects of battery chemistry and performance on the life cycle greenhouse gas intensity of electric mobility. Transportation Research Part D: Transport and Environment, doi:10.1016/j.trd.2016.05.009

Dunn, J. et al. (2016) Life Cycle Analysis Summary for Automotive Lithium-Ion Battery Production and Recycling, In: Kirchain R.E. et al. (eds) REWAS 2016. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-48768-7_11

Ellingsen, L. et al. (2016) The size and range effect: lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions of electric vehicles, Environmental Research Letters, doi:10.1088/1748-9326/11/5/054010

Kim, H. et al. (2016) Cradle-to-Gate Emissions from a Commercial Electric Vehicle Li-Ion Battery: A Comparative Analysis, Environmental Science & Technology, doi:10.1021/acs.est.6b00830

Peters, J. et al. (2016) The environmental impact of Li-Ion batteries and the role of key parameters – A review, Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, doi:10.1016/j.rser.2016.08.039

Nealer, R. et al. (2015) Cleaner Cars from Cradle to Grave, Union of Concerned Scientists white paper.

Hart, K. et al. (2013) Application of LifeCycle Assessment to Nanoscale Technology: Lithium-ion Batteries for Electric Vehicles. US EPA report 744-R-12-001.

Dunn, J. et al. (2012) Impact of recycling on cradle-to-gate energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions of automotive lithium-ion batteries, Environmental Science & Technology. doi:10.1021/es302420z

Majeau-Bettez, G. et al. (2011) Life Cycle Environmental Assessment of Lithium-Ion and

Nickel Metal Hydride Batteries for Plug-In Hybrid and Battery Electric Vehicles, Environmental Science & Technology. doi:10.1021/es103607c

Update 6-2-2020:

This article was updated to include the new battery manufacturing emissions values from the revised 2019 IVL study, replacing the 2017 IVL study values used in the original version of the article.

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Can today’s EVs make a dent in climate change?

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Nighttime image of New York City, with the red showing a large population density. “The adoption potential of electric vehicles is remarkably similar across cities, from dense urban areas like New York, to sprawling cities like Houston. This goes against the view that electric vehicles — at least affordable ones, which have limited range — only really work in dense urban centers,” says Jes...

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Nighttime image of New York City, with the red showing a large population density. “The adoption potential of electric vehicles is remarkably similar across cities, from dense urban areas like New York, to sprawling cities like Houston. This goes against the view that electric vehicles — at least affordable ones, which have limited range — only really work in dense urban centers,” says Jes...

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Could existing electric vehicles (EVs), despite their limited driving range, bring about a meaningful reduction in the greenhouse-gas emissions that are causing global climate change? Researchers at MIT have just completed the most comprehensive study yet to address this hotly debated question, and have reached a clear conclusion: Yes, they can.

The study, which found that a wholesale replacement of conventional vehicles with electric ones is possible today and could play a significant role in meeting climate change mitigation goals, was published today in the journal Nature Energy by Jessika Trancik, the Atlantic Richfield Career Development Associate Professor in Energy Studies at MIT’s Institute for Data, Systems, and Society (IDSS), along with graduate student Zachary Needell, postdoc James McNerney, and recent graduate Michael Chang SM ’15.

“Roughly 90 percent of the personal vehicles on the road daily could be replaced by a low-cost electric vehicle available on the market today, even if the cars can only charge overnight,” Trancik says, “which would more than meet near-term U.S. climate targets for personal vehicle travel.” Overall, when accounting for the emissions today from the power plants that provide the electricity, this would lead to an approximately 30 percent reduction in emissions from transportation. Deeper emissions cuts would be realized if power plants decarbonize over time.

The team spent four years on the project, which included developing a way of integrating two huge datasets: one highly detailed set of second-by-second driving behavior based on GPS data, and another broader, more comprehensive set of national data based on travel surveys. Together, the two datasets encompass millions of trips made by drivers all around the country.

The detailed GPS data was collected by state agencies in Texas, Georgia, and California, using special data loggers installed in cars to assess statewide driving patterns. The more comprehensive, but less detailed, nationwide data came from a national household transportation survey, which studied households across the country to learn about how and where people actually do their driving. The researchers needed to understand “the distances and timing of trips, the different driving behaviors, and the ambient weather conditions,” Needell says.

By working out formulas to integrate the different sets of information and thereby track one-second-resolution drive cycles, the MIT researchers were able to demonstrate that the daily energy requirements of some 90 percent of personal cars on the road in the U.S. could be met by today’s EVs, with their current ranges, at an overall cost to their owners — including both purchase and operating costs — that would be no greater than that of conventional internal-combustion vehicles. The team looked at once-daily charging, at home or at work, in order to study the adoption potential given today’s charging infrastructure.

What’s more, such a large-scale replacement would be sufficient to meet the nation’s stated near-term emissions-reduction targets for personal vehicles’ share of the transportation sector — a sector that accounts for about a third of the nation’s overall greenhouse gas emissions, with a majority of emissions from privately owned, light-duty vehicles.

While EVs have many devotees, they also have a large number of critics, who cite range anxiety as a barrier to transportation electrification. “This is an issue where common sense can lead to strongly opposing views,” Trancik says. “Many seem to feel strongly that the potential is small, and the rest are convinced that is it large.”

“Developing the concepts and mathematical models required for a testable, quantitative analysis is helpful in these situations, where so much is at stake,” she adds.

Those who feel the potential is small cite the premium prices of many EVs available today, such as the highly rated but expensive Tesla models, and the still-limited distance that lower-cost EVs can drive on a single charge, compared to the range of a gasoline car on one tank of gas. The lack of available charging infrastructure in many places, and the much greater amount of time required to recharge a car compared to simply filling a gas tank have also been cited as drawbacks.

But the team found that the vast majority of cars on the road consume no more energy in a day than the battery energy capacity in affordable EVs available today. These numbers represent a scenario in which people would do most of their recharging overnight at home, or during the day at work, so for such trips the lack of infrastructure was not really a concern. Vehicles such as the Ford Focus Electric or the Nissan Leaf — whose sticker prices are still higher than those of conventional cars, but whose overall lifetime costs end up being comparable because of lower maintenance and operating costs — would be adequate to meet the needs of the vast majority of U.S. drivers.

The study cautions that for EV ownership to rise to high levels, the needs of drivers have to be met on all days. For days on which energy consumption is higher, such as for vacations, or days when an intensive need for heating or cooling would sharply curb the EV’s distance range, driving needs could be met by using a different car (in a two-car home), or by renting, or using a car-sharing service.

The study highlights the important role that car sharing of internal combustion engine vehicles could play in driving electrification. Car sharing should be very convenient for this to work, Trancik says, and requires further business model innovation. Additionally, the days on which alternatives are needed should be known to drivers in advance —information that the team’s model “TripEnergy” is able to provide.

Even as batteries improve, there will continue to be a small number of high-energy days that exceed the range provided by electric vehicles. For these days, other powertrain technologies will likely be needed. The study helps policy-makers to quantify the “returns” to improving batteries through investing in research, for example, and the gap that will need to be filled by other kinds of cars, such as those fueled by low-emissions biofuels or hydrogen, to reach very low emissions levels for the transportation sector.

Another important finding from the study was that the potential for shifting to EVs is fairly uniform for different parts of the country. “The adoption potential of electric vehicles is remarkably similar across cities,” Trancik says, “from dense urban areas like New York, to sprawling cities like Houston. This goes against the view that electric vehicles — at least affordable ones, which have limited range — only really work in dense urban centers.”

Jeremy J. Michalek, a professor of engineering and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University who was not involved in this study, says the MIT team’s integration of the GPS and national survey data is a new approach “highlighting the novel idea that regional differences in range requirements are minor for most vehicle-day trips but increase as we move into higher-range trips.” The study, he says, is both “interesting and useful.”

The work was supported by the New England University Transportation Center at MIT, the MIT Leading Technology and Policy Initiative, the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology, the Charles E. Reed Faculty Initiatives Fund, and the MIT Energy Initiative.

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MIT researchers have found that electric cars can currently provide enough range for 87 percent of American drivers’ needs on just an overnight charge, writes Robert Ferris for CNBC. “One key finding is that electric vehicle replacement seems to be almost equally feasible in any American city, regardless of climate, topography, or size,” explains Ferris. 

Oscar Williams of The Huffington Post writes that MIT researchers have found that electric vehicles could replace almost 90 percent of cars on the road. Williams notes that mass-scale adoption of electric vehicles could lead to a 30 percent reduction in transportation-related emissions.

The Conversation

In an article for The Conservation, Prof. Jessika Trancik elaborates on her recent research showing that electric vehicles can meet the majority of U.S. driving needs. “Improved access to shared, long-range transport, alongside further-advanced batteries and cars and decarbonized electricity, provide a pathway to reaching a largely decarbonized personal vehicle fleet,” Trancik concludes.

MIT researchers have found that almost 90 percent of cars on the road could be replaced with electric vehicles, reports Amrith Ramkumar for Bloomberg. The researchers found switching to electric vehicles could lead to a “60 percent reduction in total U.S. gasoline consumption and a 30 percent decrease” in emissions from transportation.

The Guardian

Sam Thielman writes for The Guardian that MIT researchers have found that electric vehicles would meet the needs of most American drivers. Prof. Jessika Trancik says her vision is that people would own electric vehicles, “but then being able to very conveniently get an internal combustion engine vehicle to take that long road trip.”

The Washington Post

A study by MIT researchers finds that electric cars could replace most of the cars on the road, reports Chris Mooney for The Washington Post . “87 percent of vehicles on the road could be replaced by a low cost electric vehicle…even if there’s no possibility to recharge during the day,” explains Prof. Jessika Trancik.

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Tell Me How: Can Electric Vehicles and Heat Pumps Reduce Emissions Despite the Energy Source? 

View all episodes on our  Tell Me How: The Infrastructure Podcast Series homepage

In this podcast, we discuss how the adoption of electric vehicles and heat pumps can reduce GHG emissions in different countries under various assumptions about the energy mix/ source and consider all emissions from their production and use.

Listen to this episode on your favorite platforms:  Amazon Music ,  Apple Podcasts ,  Google Podcasts ,  Podbean , and  Spotify


Roumeen Islam: This is the World Bank’s Infrastructure podcast. In today's episode, we discuss the impact of electric vehicles and electric heat pumps on greenhouse gas emissions. Remember to listen to the key messages at the end.

. Though it's still a small part of the total cart stock, electric vehicles accounted for two thirds of new electric car registrations in 2020. China with four and a half million electric cars has the largest fleet by far, though in 2020 Europe had the largest annual increase, says the IEA, and their stock has reached 3.2 million.

And there are many models available, about 370 or more worldwide. And they're increasing really fast year by year. There are even heavy-duty electric trucks on offer. At the same time, governments are offering financial and other incentives to purchase them, to meet their climate agendas. And it's not just vehicles, even heat pumps using electricity can help cut emissions.

How much will this rush to electrify transport and maybe even heating help the climate agenda? Let's find out.

Good morning and welcome. I am Roumeen Islam, host of Tell Me How and today's guest is Florian Knobloch, who is a fellow at the Center for Environment, Energy and Natural Resource Governance at the University of Cambridge.

Florian has previously worked as a researcher and lecturer at the Environmental Science Department of Radboud University at the Netherlands as well, and has done research on a variety of countries around the world. Welcome Florian.

Florian Knobloch: Thanks for having me, Roumeen.

Roumeen Islam: It's very nice to have you with us. So, Florian, you've done research on emissions from electric vehicles, which I shall refer to as EVs from now on, and heat pumps under different climate policy and energy mix scenarios with quite pertinent findings for policy makers.

Can we first start with why you looked into this question?

Florian Knobloch: Sure. The policy strategies for achieving this can be summarized as “Electrifying Everything”.

This is to replace fuel-based cars and heating systems with electric cars and electric heat pumps, which both can be powered by a clean electricity grid. However, since today, electricity generation still involves using fossil fuels. It is not clear where and when electric cars and heat pumps can effectively reduce overall emissions with today's electricity grid.

And principally, both electric cars and heat pumps should reduce emissions even when electricity is still produced with fossil fuels, simply due to their very high energy efficiency. However, many studies claim that electrification could still increase emissions due to indirect emissions from the production of cars and batteries.

There's a lot of background research in these areas, often highly specialized. There's also a lot of misleading information out there on this topic. So, we wanted to provide a clear answer, which is useful for policymakers, which need to decide on energy and climate policy and their countries. So, we take all the information available and use it to answer these important questions.

Roumeen Islam: You said you wanted to provide a clear answer, but then let's get to the precise question that you were seeking to answer on the research. And let's just go one more time over why this is an important policy question. The precise question you're asking.

Florian Knobloch: If electricity grids first have to get cleaner for the “Electrify Everything” strategy to be beneficial, encouraging things like EVs might not have the intended effect on overall emissions. There's the question. To provide clearer answers to this question our team did the math to find out how green EVs and heat pumps for home heating are in different countries now and in the future,

Roumeen Islam: What percentage of emissions are accounted for by road transport and residential heating? I'm trying to understand how important they are or potentially could be in the climate policy agenda if we look simply at the size of their emissions.

Florian Knobloch: Quite important.

So, to put it into perspective, That makes electric vehicles and electric heat pumps essential to reducing global emissions and limit global warming.

Roumeen Islam: Thank you. I'm very glad that you mentioned those countries emissions as examples, because for me, it was hard to understand what the five gigatons of CO2 really meant and putting it in that context was good. By the way, CO2 is carbon dioxide emissions, I just wanted to clarify.

All right, but let's go to heat pumps. We talked a lot about heat pumps and how they can reduce emissions, but could you just explain a little bit what heat pumps are.

Florian Knobloch: Heat pumps can be used for heating homes. Instead of using gas or oil heating systems, heat pumps use electricity and heat exchange systems, which are similar in principle to those found in your fridge or air conditioner. Essentially, they extract heat from the environment from either the air or the ground. This process is extremely energy efficient, even compared to high efficiency gas heating systems, because heat pumps extract heat from the environment they can turn one unit of electricity into five or more units of heat.

This works even at very low outside temperatures.

Roumeen Islam: Could you then please explain what is meant by a life-cycle analysis and why such an analysis is important?

Florian Knobloch: Yes, Roumeen. We carried out a full lifecycle assessment of manufacturing ongoing energy use. What this means is that we did not only calculate the greenhouse gas emissions from using cars and heating systems.

Our calculations also include all emissions from the production chain and also from waste processing. This is quite important because On the other hand, the extraction and refining of fossil fuels also causes emissions, around a quarter of the emissions from burning the fuels. These so-called “upstream emissions” are also included in our calculations.

Roumeen Islam: That's very good to hear because of course it is important to think about the entire life-cycle emissions. I see that now that you've explained what you're calculating. So, could you explain, how is your research adding to the existing research that's there? Are there no other papers that have looked at lifecycle emissions, for example?

Florian Knobloch: There are plenty of papers, but our research is different in three very relevant ways. First, most existing studies focus either on one or mostly a few regions, or they look at global averages. Both is not very useful for policymakers.

Our study covers the whole world while also providing a detailed analysis for 59 separate world regions. Second, almost all studies on EVs are limited to the present situation, but what we are mostly interested in is the future. So, our study looks into the future and projects results onto 2050, also including worst case scenarios.

Third, we do not restrict our analysis to specific car models. We look at the whole range of cars, which are available in the market. So overall, our study is the first to really provide a comprehensive overview.

Roumeen Islam: So, with all this information if we go back to your research question, how do you go about answering such a complex question?

You've got so many different aspects to the issue.

Florian Knobloch: Okay. So, the aim was to examine the emissions of different types of vehicles and heating options now and in the future. For this, we use two things, lots of data and the computer model. Regarding data, we took the most up-to-date bottom-up estimates of life cycle emissions from producing cars of different types and also from the production and transport of the fuels used.

We have also used tons of data on the power plants, running grids in different countries, as well as data on the types of vehicles and home heating methods used. Importantly, we've run the numbers for a whole range of cars and heating systems. So not only for one specific and petrol cars, but we looked at the whole range of cars, which are available in the market.

Roumeen Islam: Luxury cars, Volkswagen, Rolls Royce, Porsche, everything, right?

Florian Knobloch: Exactly. They're all in there. We do not only look at the Tesla Model 3 and compare it to a Volkswagen Golf, but we compare the whole range of petrol cars with the whole range of electric cars. And as a first step, we did this for the present situation.

Then as a next step, we plugged all this data to a big computer model of the global economy with a very detailed representation of the energy system. This model simulates future changes in the electricity system. And it also simulates the uptake of cars and heating systems from 2015, up to 2050. So, what kind of technologies do people choose?

Do they choose EVs or other cars and will investors choose coal power plants or solar PV?

Roumeen Islam: You had mentioned that you do this analysis for 59 regions around the world. How do you distinguish these regions as you call them, do they differ substantially in their initial conditions? Do they differ in their expected patterns of growth or energy use and car use for example?

Florian Knobloch: They differ quite substantially. So, in most cases, what we refer to as regions here are simply countries, and all countries are different, obviously. The model we use was originally developed for the European Commission. So, each European country is represented as an individual region. In addition, also most G 20 countries are also represented as individual regions.

As the model focuses on energy and climate areas with lower energy use and emissions are combined into one region such as parts of Africa or central Asia. This has also to do with a lack of data availability for some parts of the world. And of course, we also built in projections for how demand for transport in different regions rises over time, such as in India, where we project a very fast increase in private car use over the next decades.

Roumeen Islam: If you have got some cases where countries are grouped together and others, where you just look at individual countries, obviously you have much more refined information on those countries where you're looking at the individual country, but there are other parts of the world that are going to grow probably a lot more and a lot faster in the demand for cars. And you have a way of building that in or not?

Florian Knobloch: Yes, of course, we also built end projections for how demand for transport in different regions rises over time. For example, India, today only accounts for a small fraction of the global demand for private car transport. In the future, we project a very sharp increase in car use in India. We do that by means of econometric analysis. So, we try to project future demand for transport based on future projections for income per person, GDP per capita, fewer prices, things like that.

Roumeen Islam: Okay. That clarifies things a lot. So let me ask you a bit more about the technology uptake that you mentioned earlier.

There's a lot of uncertainty about the direction of technological change. So how do you account for this technological change and technology adoption?

Florian Knobloch: It is true that technological change is quite uncertain, but it also follows certain patterns and regularities which can be used for simulating its future direction.

There's strong path dependence in technological change. There's plenty of evidence from history, which shows us that technology change usually follows an S shaped pattern. New technologies start growing very slowly in the beginning before they eventually gain momentum and then increase their market shares exponentially until everyone then has the new technology, and the curve flattens.

It's like the new iPhone at the beginning of one or two friends who have the iPhone. Suddenly everyone wants to get one. And all of a sudden everyone has one, and growth stops.

Roumeen Islam: So, Florian, could you speak a bit about the global scenarios you estimate and how they were chosen.

Florian Knobloch: Yeah, sure. Roumeen. We've looked into three different scenarios.

So, the first scenario simply sees a continuation of current trends of technology uptake. The electricity grid, and this scenario becomes somewhat cleaner, but not a lot. Only 60% by 2050, in terms of emissions per kilowatt hour of electricity. Electric vehicles in this scenario grow modestly to about 19% of rail transportation by 2050 and heat pumps hit 16% of home heating demand.

Roumeen Islam: So those aren't very large percentages.

Florian Knobloch: No, that's like just a continuation of what we see already happening today. In the second scenario we represent emission reduction policies all over the world, aiming to be roughly Paris aligned. These policies wouldn't make the electricity grid 74% cleaner by 2050, push EVs up to half of road miles by 2050, and heat pumps up to over a third of home heating.

Then we have a third scenario which serves as a worst-case analysis and essentially is a mismatched combination of the first two scenarios. So, we assume very strong policies, boosting EVs and heat pump use, but no policies to clean up the electricity grid. That test whoever electrify everything could backfire and such a worst-case combination of policies.

Roumeen Islam: Those are three very interesting scenarios certainly to look at now. Could you tell us your main results? Maybe you mentioned some on average, what the result shows you are globally and then differences across the regions. And if you could explain differences when you explain your results and then, maybe you can start with electric vehicles and then go on to heat pumps.

Florian Knobloch: So, first things first, we find that Therefore, our results show that already

Averaged over the globe EVs already represent about 31% emission-saving per kilometer and heat pumps are a 35% saving per unit of heating.

Roumeen Islam: Why is it that EVs can reduce emissions even if the grid relies heavily on fossil fuels?

Florian Knobloch: So

This is possible because internal combustion engines are less efficient than the large turbines used in power stations. So, it's simply a relative efficiency advantage of electric technologies. The average break point for that is around 1,000 grams of CO2 per kilowatt hour of electricity, which is roughly the efficiency of the oldest and dirtiest coal power plants we have.

So as long as the grid is slightly cleaner than that, EVs should reduce emissions compared to petrol cars.

Roumeen Islam: Okay. Then let's go to the pattern of emissions found across countries. Could you speak about that?

Florian Knobloch: Sure.

These 95% include all of Europe, the US, China, Brazil, Indonesia, Nigeria, and essentially most other places around the globe. The only few exceptions are places like India, the Czech Republic and Poland, where electricity generation is still mostly based on coal. However, these regions together account for only 5% of global demand.

Roumeen Islam: That's now at the present time. That's at the present time and it's not just three, three countries. There are a few more, right?

Florian Knobloch: It's five or six regions in total. It's also like Estonia, I think. But yeah, small countries. What's also important to know is that there are also best-case examples like Sweden and France, which produced electricity from renewables and nuclear and where its lifetime emissions from EVs and heat pumps are up to 70% lower already.

Roumeen Islam: Now I note that you said they're not, 90% lower, so I'm assuming this has something to do with these being life cycle emissions, because there are, we talked about, driving cars, but then there's also the production of cars, but we'll get to this later.

How do you expect these numbers to change in the future?

Florian Knobloch: On the other side, for a fair comparison, we also need to consider continued progress on efficiency for fossil fuel powered cars and heating systems, as well as very electric counterparts.

So, technology will improve in the future. But even when fossil fuel powered cars become more efficient than they are today, emissions of fuel burning cars are always unavoidable. So, you might have a more efficient petrol car, but it still will burn fossil fuels. There's no way around that. As a result, in a few years, even inefficient electric cars will be less emission intensive than the most up-to-date and most efficient new petrol cars.

This is true for most countries, as electricity generation is expected to be less carbon intensive than it is today.

Roumeen Islam: All right. So how much could global emissions fall in total? Give me a number or a percentage.

Florian Knobloch: Obviously this depends on the number of electric cars in the street, , which to give you some idea what this means is equivalent to the total annual CO2 emissions of Russia today.

Roumeen Islam: So, when you say every second car in the streets could be electric, this is in which scenario that you're modeling?

Florian Knobloch: This is in the climate policy scenario where policies are being implemented for pushing EVs. So even in that scenario, we think that there will still be petrol cars in 2050 and some countries who have largely electric cars, like the European union or United States, but in other parts of the world, it's perhaps not so realistic that you only have electric cars even in such a scenario.

Roumeen Islam: So, what kind of emission reduction could be achieved by heat pumps?

Florian Knobloch: Our results for heat pumps are actually quite similar to our results for electric vehicles. This means already

And this is also true for 95% of the world in terms of heating demand. , that they have a very high share of renewables in the grid overall around the world.

Roumeen Islam: Okay, thank you for explaining your results. What you think the implications are for policy?

Florian Knobloch: The implications for policy are quite clear.

In other words,

Roumeen Islam: Even if we look at life cycle emissions, their production.

Florian Knobloch: Exactly everything included cradle to grave, electric vehicles and electric heat pumps are always better in terms of emissions, compared to fossil fuel technologies already today.

So, considering that

Roumeen Islam: It's a no regret policy. Now, this sounds too good to be true. Is there a drawback?

Florian Knobloch: There’s always a drawback. As time goes on, emissions from manufacturing electric vehicles account for ever larger share of total lifecycle emissions.

So, as the grid becomes cleaner, emissions from electricity use will decrease, but the shelf production emissions is projected to grow from around 25% of total road transport emissions today, to almost 40% in 2050.

Roumeen Islam: That’s quite a bit of growth.

Florian Knobloch: Yeah, it is. So,

Roumeen Islam: So, we should be driving less then?

Florian Knobloch: Yeah. So,

This means promoting things like car sharing, cycling, or public transport, perhaps combined with regulations on the energy efficiency of electric vehicles.

Roumeen Islam: Thank you very much Florian. That was really illuminating. Thank you.

Florian Knobloch: It was a pleasure talking with you Roumeen.

Roumeen Islam: It was a pleasure talking to you.

Well, listeners, what did we learn today? Firstly, Even if energy sources remained as they are today, and even if no additional climate policies are adopted. Only countries with the dirtiest fossil fuel sources wouldn't gain as much.

Thank you and bye for now.

Net emission reductions from electric cars and heat pumps in 59 world regions overtime  or

global warming evs project introduction

Climate explained: the environmental footprint of electric versus fossil cars

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If you have a question you’d like an expert to answer, please send it to [email protected]

There is a lot of discussion on the benefits of electric cars versus fossil fuel cars in the context of lithium mining. Please can you tell me which one weighs in better on the environmental impact in terms of global warming and why?

Electric vehicles (EVs) seem very attractive at first sight. But when we look more closely, it becomes clear that they have a substantial carbon footprint and some downsides in terms of the extraction of lithium, cobalt and other metals. And they don’t relieve congestion in crowded cities.

In this response to the question, we touch briefly on the lithium issue, but focus mainly on the carbon footprint of electric cars.

The increasing use of lithium-ion batteries as a major power source in electronic devices, including mobile phones, laptops and electric cars has contributed to a 58% increase in lithium mining in the past decade worldwide. There seems little near-term risk of lithium being mined out, but there is an environmental downside.

The mining process requires extensive amounts of water, which can cause aquifer depletion and adversely affect ecosystems in the Atacama Salt Flat, in Chile, the world’s largest lithium extraction site. But researchers have developed methods to recover lithium from water .

Turning to climate change, it matters whether electric cars emit less carbon than conventional vehicles, and how much less.

Read more: Climate explained: why don't we have electric aircraft?

Emissions reduction potential of EVs

The best comparison is based on a life cycle analysis which tries to consider all the emissions of carbon dioxide during vehicle manufacturing, use and recycling. Life cycle estimates are never entirely comprehensive, and emission estimates vary by country, as circumstances differ.

In New Zealand, 82% of energy for electricity generation came from renewable sources in 2017. With these high renewable electricity levels for electric car recharging, compared with say Australia or China, EVs are better suited to New Zealand . But this is only one part of the story. One should not assume that, overall, electric cars in New Zealand have a close-to-zero carbon footprint or are wholly sustainable.

A life cycle analysis of emissions considers three phases: the manufacturing phase (also known as cradle-to-gate), the use phase (well-to-wheel) and the recycling phase (grave-to-cradle).

The manufacturing phase

In this phase, the main processes are ore mining, material transformation, manufacturing of vehicle components and vehicle assembly. A recent study of car emissions in China estimates emissions for cars with internal combustion engines in this phase to be about 10.5 tonnes of carbon dioxide (tCO₂) per car, compared to emissions for an electric car of about 13 tonnes (including the electric car battery manufacturing).

Emissions from the manufacturing of a lithium-nickel-manganese-cobalt-oxide battery alone were estimated to be 3.2 tonnes. If the vehicle life is assumed to be 150,000 kilometres, emissions from the manufacturing phase of an electric car are higher than for fossil-fuelled cars. But for complete life cycle emissions, the study shows that EV emissions are 18% lower than fossil-fuelled cars.

Read more: How electric cars can help save the grid

The use phase

In the use phase, emissions from an electric car are solely due to its upstream emissions, which depend on how much of the electricity comes from fossil or renewable sources. The emissions from a fossil-fuelled car are due to both upstream emissions and tailpipe emissions.

Upstream emissions of EVs essentially depend on the share of zero or low-carbon sources in the country’s electricity generation mix. To understand how the emissions of electric cars vary with a country’s renewable electricity share, consider Australia and New Zealand.

In 2018, Australia’s share of renewables in electricity generation was about 21% (similar to Greece’s at 22%). In contrast, the share of renewables in New Zealand’s electricity generation mix was about 84% (less than France’s at 90%). Using these data and estimates from a 2018 assessment , electric car upstream emissions (for a battery electric vehicle) in Australia can be estimated to be about 170g of CO₂ per km while upstream emissions in New Zealand are estimated at about 25g of CO₂ per km on average. This shows that using an electric car in New Zealand is likely to be about seven times better in terms of upstream carbon emissions than in Australia.

The above studies show that emissions during the use phase from a fossil-fuelled compact sedan car were about 251g of CO₂ per km. Therefore, the use phase emissions from such a car were about 81g of CO₂ per km higher than those from a grid-recharged EV in Australia, and much worse than the emissions from an electric car in New Zealand.

The recycling phase

The key processes in the recycling phase are vehicle dismantling, vehicle recycling, battery recycling and material recovery. The estimated emissions in this phase, based on a study in China , are about 1.8 tonnes for a fossil-fuelled car and 2.4 tonnes for an electric car (including battery recycling). This difference is mostly due to the emissions from battery recycling which is 0.7 tonnes.

This illustrates that electric cars are responsible for more emissions than their petrol counterparts in the recycling phase. But it’s important to note the recycled vehicle components can be used in the manufacturing of future vehicles, and batteries recycled through direct cathode recycling can be used in subsequent batteries. This could have significant emissions reduction benefits in the future.

So on the basis of recent studies, fossil-fuelled cars generally emit more than electric cars in all phases of a life cycle. The total life cycle emissions from a fossil-fuelled car and an electric car in Australia were 333g of CO₂ per km and 273g of CO₂ per km, respectively. That is, using average grid electricity, EVs come out about 18% better in terms of their carbon footprint.

Likewise, electric cars in New Zealand work out a lot better than fossil-fuelled cars in terms of emissions, with life-cycle emissions at about 333 g of CO₂ per km for fossil-fuelled cars and 128g of CO₂ per km for electric cars. In New Zealand, EVs perform about 62% better than fossil cars in carbon footprint terms.

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Tesla Inc. vehicles in a parking lot after arriving at a port in Yokohama, Japan, on Thursday, Oct. 28, 2022.

Teslas in a parking lot after arriving at a port in Yokohama, Japan.

“Electric cars will not save the climate. It is completely wrong,” Fatih Birol , Executive Director of the International Energy Agency (IEA), has stated .

If Birol were from Maine, he might have simply observed , “You can’t get there from here.”

This is not to imply in any way that electric vehicles are worthless. Analysis by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) argues that EVs are the quickest means to decarbonize motorized transport. However, EVs are not by themselves in any way going to achieve the goal of net zero by 2050 .

The EV Transition Explained

This is one in a series of articles exploring the major technological and social challenges that must be addressed as we move from vehicles with internal-combustion engines to electric vehicles at scale. In reviewing each article, readers should bear in mind Nobel Prize–winning physicist Richard Feynman’s admonition: “For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for Nature cannot be fooled.”

There are two major reasons for this: first, EVs are not going to reach the numbers required by 2050 to hit their needed contribution to net zero goals , and even if they did, a host of other personal, social and economic activities must be modified to reach the total net zero mark.

For instance, Alexandre Milovanoff at the University of Toronto and his colleagues’ research (which is described in depth in a recent Spectrum article ) demonstrates the U.S. must have 90 percent of its vehicles, or some 350 million EVs, on the road by 2050 in order to hit its emission targets. The likelihood of this occurring is infinitesimal. Some estimates indicate that about 40 percent of vehicles on US roads will be ICE vehicles in 2050, while others are less than half that figure.

For the U.S. to hit the 90 percent EV target, sales of all new ICE vehicles across the U.S. must cease by 2038 at the latest, according to research company BloombergNEF (BNEF). Greenpeace , on the other hand, argues that sales of all diesel and petrol vehicles, including hybrids, must end by 2030 to meet such a target. However, achieving either goal would likely require governments offering hundreds of billions of dollars, if not trillions, in EV subsidies to ICE owners over the next decade, not to mention significant investments in EV charging infrastructure and the electrical grid. ICE vehicle households would also have to be convinced that they would not be giving activities up by becoming EV-only households.

As a reality check, current estimates for the number of ICE vehicles still on the road worldwide in 2050 range from a low of 1.25 billion to more than 2 billion.

Even assuming that the required EV targets were met in the U.S. and elsewhere, it still will not be sufficient to meet net zero 2050 emission targets. Transportation accounts for only 27 percent of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) in the U.S.; the sources of the other 73 percent of GHG emissions must be reduced as well. Even in the transportation sector, more than 15 percent of the GHG emissions are created by air and rail travel and shipping. These will also have to be decarbonized.

Nevertheless, for EVs themselves to become true zero emission vehicles, everything in their supply chain from mining to electricity production must be nearly net-zero emission as well. Today, depending on the EV model, where it charges, and assuming it is a battery electric and not a hybrid vehicle, it may need to be driven anywhere from 8,400 to 13,500 miles , or controversially, significantly more to generate less GHG emissions than an ICE vehicle. This is due to the 30 to 40 percent increase in emissions EVs create in comparison to manufacturing an ICE vehicle, mainly from its battery production.

In states (or countries ) with a high proportion of coal-generated electricity, the miles needed to break-even climb more. In Poland and China, for example, an EV would need to be driven 78,700 miles to break-even . Just accounting for miles driven , however, BEVs cars and trucks appear cleaner than ICE equivalents nearly everywhere in the U.S. today. As electricity increasingly comes from renewables, total electric vehicle GHG emissions will continue downward, but that will take at least a decade or more to happen everywhere across the U.S. (assuming policy roadblocks disappear), and even longer elsewhere.

If EVs aren’t enough, what else is needed?

Given that EVs, let alone the rest of the transportation sector, likely won’t hit net zero 2050 targets, what additional actions are being advanced to reduce GHG emissions?

A high priority, says IEA’s Birol, is investment in across-the-board energy-related technology research and development and their placement into practice. According to Birol, “IEA analysis shows that about half the reductions to get to net zero emissions in 2050 will need to come from technologies that are not yet ready for market.”

Many of these new technologies will be aimed at improving the efficient use of fossil fuels, which will not be disappearing anytime soon. The IEA expects that energy efficiency improvement, such as the increased use of variable speed electric motors, will lead to a 40 percent reduction in energy-related GHG emissions over the next twenty years.

But even if these hoped for technological improvements arrive, and most certainly if they do not, the public and businesses are expected to take more energy conscious decisions to close what the United Nations says is the expected 2050 “emissions gap.” Environmental groups foresee the public needing to use electrified mass transit , reduce long-haul flights for business as well as pleasure), increase telework, walk and cycle to work or stores, change their diet to eat more vegetables, or if absolutely needed, drive only small EVs. Another expectation is that homeowners and businesses will become “ fully electrified ” by replacing oil, propane and gas furnaces with heat pumps along with gas fired stoves as well as installing solar power and battery systems.

Underpinning the behavioral changes being urged (or encouraged by legislation ) is the notion of rejecting the current car-centric culture and completely rethinking what personal mobility means. For example, researchers at University of Oxford in the U.K. argue that, “Focusing solely on electric vehicles is slowing down the race to zero emissions.” Their study   found “emissions from cycling can be more than 30 times lower for each trip than driving a fossil fuel car, and about ten times lower than driving an electric one.” If just one out of five urban residents in Europe permanently changed from driving to cycling, emissions from automobiles would be cut by 8 percent, the study reports.

Even then, Oxford researchers concede, breaking the car’s mental grip on people is not going to be easy, given the generally poor state of public transportation across much of the globe.

Behavioral change is hard

How willing are people to break their car dependency and other energy-related behaviors to address climate change ? The answer is perhaps some, but maybe not too much. A Pew Research Center   survey taken in late 2021 of seventeen countries with advanced economies indicated that 80 percent of those surveyed were willing to alter how then live and work to combat climate change.

However, a Kanter Public   survey of ten of the same countries taken at about the same time gives a less positive view, with only 51 percent of those polled stating they would alter their lifestyles. In fact, some 74 percent of those polled indicated they were already “proud of what [they are] currently doing” to combat climate change.

What both polls failed to explore are what behaviors specifically would respondents being willing to permanently change or give up in their lives to combat climate change?

For instance, how many urban dwellers, if told that they must forever give up their cars and instead walk, cycle or take public transportation, would willingly agree to doing so? And how many of those who agreed, would also consent to go vegetarian, telework, and forsake trips abroad for vacation?

It is one thing to answer a poll indicating a willingness to change, and quite another to “ walk the talk ” especially if there are personal, social or economic inconveniences or costs involved. For instance, recent U.S. survey information shows that while 22 percent of new car buyers expressed interest in a battery electric vehicle (BEV), only 5 percent actually bought one.

Granted, there are several cities where living without a vehicle is doable, like Utrecht in the Netherlands where in 2019 48 percent of resident trips were done by cycling or London, where nearly two-thirds of all trips taken that same year were are made by walking, cycling or public transportation. Even a few US cities it might be livable without a car .

However, in countless other urban areas, especially across most of the U.S ., even those wishing to forsake owning a car would find it very difficult to do so without a massive influx of investment into all forms of public transport and personal mobility to eliminate the scores of US transit deserts .

As Tony Dutzik of the environmental advocacy group Frontier Group has written that in the U.S. “the price of admission to jobs, education and recreation is owning a car.” That’s especially true if you are a poor urbanite. Owning a reliable automobile has long been one of the only successful means of getting out of poverty.

Massive investment in new public transportation in the U.S. in unlikely, given its unpopularity with politicians and the public alike. This unpopularity has translated into aging and poorly-maintained bus, train and transit systems that few look forward to using. The American Society of Civil Engineers gives the current state of American public transportation a grade of D- and says today’s $176 billion investment backlog is expected to grow to $250 billion through 2029.

While the $89 billion targeted to public transportation in the recently passed Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will help, it also contains more than $351 billion for highways over the next five years. Hundreds of billions in annual investment are needed not only to fix the current public transport system but to build new ones to significantly reduce car dependency in America. Doing so would still take decades to complete .

Yet, even if such an investment were made in public transportation, unless its service is competitive with an EV or ICE vehicle in terms of cost, reliability and convenience, it will not be used. With EVs costing less to operate than ICE vehicles, the competitive hurdle will increase, despite the moves to offer free transit rides. Then there is the social stigma attached riding public transportation that needs to be overcome as well.

A few experts proclaim that ride-sharing using autonomous vehicles will separate people from their cars. Some even claim such AV sharing signals the both the end of individual car ownership as well as the need to invest in public transportation. Both outcomes are far from likely .

Other suggestions include redesigning cities to be more compact and more electrified, which would eliminate most of the need for personal vehicles to meet basic transportation needs. Again, this would take decades and untold billions of dollars to do so at the scale needed. The San Diego, California region has decided to spend $160 billion as a way to meet California’s net zero objectives to create “a collection of walkable villages serviced by bustling (fee-free) train stations and on-demand shuttles” by 2050. However, there has been public pushback over how to pay for the plan and its push to decrease personal driving by imposing a mileage tax.

According to University of Michigan public policy expert John Leslie King, the challenge of getting to net zero by 2050 is that each decarbonization proposal being made is only part of the overall solution. He notes, “You must achieve all the goals, or you don’t win. The cost of doing each is daunting, and the total cost goes up as you concatenate them.”

Concatenated costs also include changing multiple personal behaviors. It is unlikely that automakers, having committed more than a trillion dollars so far to EVs and charging infrastructure, are going to support depriving the public of the activities they enjoy today as a price they pay to shift to EVs. A war on EVs will be hard fought.

Should Policies Nudge or Shove?

The cost concatenation problem arises not only at a national level, but at countless local levels as well. Massachusetts’ new governor Maura Healey , for example, has set ambitious goals of having at least 1 million EVs on the road , converting 1 million fossil-fuel burning furnaces in homes and buildings to heat-pump systems, and the state achieving a 100 percent clean electricity supply by 2030.

The number of Massachusetts households that can afford or are willing to buy an EV and or convert their homes to a heat pump system in the next eight years, even with a current state median household income of $89,000 and subsidies , is likely significantly smaller than the targets set. So, what happens if by 2030, the numbers are well below target, not only in Massachusetts, but other states like California, New York, or Illinois that also have aggressive GHG emission reduction targets?

Will governments move from encouraging behavioral changes to combat climate change or, in frustration or desperation, begin mandating them? And if they do, will there be a tipping point that spurs massive social resistance?

For example, dairy farmers in the Netherlands have been protesting plans by the government to force them to cut their nitrogen emissions. This will require dairy farms to reduce their livestock, which will make it difficult or impossible to stay in business. The Dutch government estimates 11,200 farms must close, and another 17,600 to reduce their livestock numbers. The government says farmers who do not comply will have their farms taken away by forced buyouts starting in 2023.

California admits getting to a zero-carbon transportation system by 2045 means car owners must travel 25 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 and even more by 2045. If drivers fail to do so, will California impose weekly or monthly driving quotas, or punitive per mile driving taxes , along with mandating mileage data from vehicles ever-more connected to the Internet? The San Diego backlash over a mileage tax may be just the beginning.

“EVs,” notes King, “pull an invisible trailer filled with required major lifestyle changes that the public is not yet aware of.”

When it does, do not expect the public to acquiesce quietly.

In the final article of the series, we explore potential unanticipated consequences of transitioning to EVs at scale.

Convincing Consumers To Buy EVs

The aftershocks of the ev transition could be ugly.

  • The EV Transition Explained: Local Policies Shape Global Competition ›
  • The EV Transition Explained ›
  • Electrifying Standards: U.S. Joins EV Race to Zero - IEEE Spectrum ›
  • Policies to promote electric vehicle deployment – Global EV Outlook ... ›
  • Electric Vehicle Transition Impact Assessment - CLEPA – European ... ›

Robert N. Charette is a Contributing Editor to IEEE Spectrum and an acknowledged international authority on information technology and systems risk management. A self-described “risk ecologist,” he is interested in the intersections of business, political, technological, and societal risks. Charette is an award-winning author of multiple books and numerous articles on the subjects of risk management, project and program management, innovation, and entrepreneurship. A Life Senior Member of the IEEE, Charette was a recipient of the IEEE Computer Society’s Golden Core Award in 2008.

Bruce Wilson

If you are going to lean heavily on quotes from Dr Birol you ought to address the fact that before taking his current post as head of IEA he worked at the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in Vienna for six years. There is a huge amount of misinformation and disinformation around fossil fuels right now. Please be vigilant.

Herbert Hanselmann

The proportion of non-fossil power generation does not matter at all, unless it is 100%. Because as long as fossil power is required on the grid as a complement, any extra power demand leads to more fossil power than without that demand. In other words, the EV is manufactured and driven with pure fossil power. Therefore I drive my BEV with ca. 40% (highly efficient natural gas power generation), 90% (hard coal), and 150% of CO2 (brown coal) emission, compared to the same car with ICE.

ralph panhuyzen

We should become a 'bit' more ambitious towards our favorite mode of transportation, the car. An electric car is basically the same as an oversized toy car on batteries. The less it weighs and the lower the drag, the fewer batteries it needs and still score a decent range. kWh not consumed is kWh that doesn’t need to be generated, precious resources like rare earth metals not depleted, even improve road safety. More:

Video Friday: Robot Bees

The new shadow hand can take a beating, commercial space stations approach launch phase, related stories, the lithium-ion battery may not be the best bet for evs, e-snowmobile amps up recreation tech, lucid floats the gravity: a high-stamina electric suv.

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  • Published: 19 March 2015

Hidden Benefits of Electric Vehicles for Addressing Climate Change

  • Canbing Li 1 , 2 ,
  • Yijia Cao 1 ,
  • Mi Zhang 1 ,
  • Jianhui Wang 1 , 3 ,
  • Jianguo Liu 2 ,
  • Haiqing Shi 1 &
  • Yinghui Geng 1  

Scientific Reports volume  5 , Article number:  9213 ( 2015 ) Cite this article

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There is an increasingly hot debate on whether the replacement of conventional vehicles (CVs) by electric vehicles (EVs) should be delayed or accelerated since EVs require higher cost and cause more pollution than CVs in the manufacturing process. Here we reveal two hidden benefits of EVs for addressing climate change to support the imperative acceleration of replacing CVs with EVs. As EVs emit much less heat than CVs within the same mileage, the replacement can mitigate urban heat island effect (UHIE) to reduce the energy consumption of air conditioners, benefitting local and global climates. To demonstrate these effects brought by the replacement of CVs by EVs, we take Beijing, China, as an example. EVs emit only 19.8% of the total heat emitted by CVs per mile. The replacement of CVs by EVs in 2012 could have mitigated the summer heat island intensity (HII) by about 0.94°C, reduced the amount of electricity consumed daily by air conditioners in buildings by 14.44 million kilowatt-hours (kWh) and reduced daily CO 2 emissions by 10,686 tonnes.

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The refinery of the future


The replacement of CVs by EVs has been an inevitable trend around the world. As of December 2013, there were 405,000 highway-capable plug-in electric passenger cars and utility vans worldwide 1 . An increasingly hot debate on whether the replacement of CVs by EVs should be delayed or accelerated has surfaced among researchers, enterprises and governments 2 , since EVs are more costly and cause more pollution than CVs in the manufacturing process 3 , 4 .

UHIE is influential in metropolitan areas 5 . For example, the surface temperatures in some urban areas of Beijing, on July 5, 2010, were nearly 50°C 6 , 7 . UHIE, which contributes to the extremely high temperatures in urban areas, is the main cause of this phenomenon.

UHIE would cause huge air-conditioning energy consumption 8 , 9 , 10 . The positive feedback of air-conditioning energy consumption to UHIE was proposed and evaluated in Refs. 11 , 12 , 13 . Heat emitted by vehicles and air conditioners in buildings, the main source of anthropogenic heat emissions in urban areas, is one of the main causes of UHIE 14 . The strength of UHIE is measured in terms of HII 15 . HII is calculated as the urban temperature minus the rural temperature, which depends on heat emissions, aerosol pollution, underlying ground surface and ventilation, etc.

The replacement of CVs by EVs has important implications for UHIE. There is no doubt that CVs will be replaced by EVs in the long run because fossil energy is non-renewable. However, there is an increasingly hot debate on whether the replacement should be delayed or accelerated 2 . Here we reveal two hidden benefits of EVs for addressing climate change to support the acceleration of the replacement. EVs emit much less heat than CVs within the same mileage. Therefore, the replacement can mitigate HII, which can reduce the amount of electricity consumed daily by air conditioners, benefitting the local and global climate. These effects are shown in Fig. 1 and Beijing in the summer of 2012 is taken as an example.

figure 1

The two hidden climate benefits of replacing CVs with EVs.

EVs emit much less heat than CVs within the same mileage. Replacing CVs with EVs would mitigate HII and CO 2 emissions to benefit local and global climates.

Heat emissions ratio of EVs to CVs

In Beijing in 2012, the average heat emissions by CV and EV per mile were estimated to be 6.31 and 1.25 million joules (J) respectively. Then the average heat emitted by EV per mile was about 19.8% of that by CV.

Reduction of heat emissions

In the summer of 2012 in Beijing, the daily heat emitted by CVs was 9.85 × 10 14  J. If CVs were replaced by EVs, the heat emitted by EVs would be reduced by 7.90 × 10 14  J and the heat emitted by power plants would be increased by 6.09 × 10 13  J, so the total daily reduction of heat emissions would be 7.29 × 10 14  J.

HII mitigation and reduction of air-conditioning energy consumption and CO 2 emissions

The average HII was estimated at 3.0°C in the summer of 2012 in Beijing. Heat emissions, which are mainly caused by vehicles and air conditioners in buildings, contributed about half of the HII in Beijing 16 . The daily heat emitted by air conditioners was 4.32 × 10 14  J. The decreased heat emissions from the replacement are 1.69 times higher than the emissions of air conditioners in buildings, which would mitigate the summer HII by about 0.94°C ( Fig. 2 ). Because of the reduction of HII, the energy consumed by air conditioners in buildings would decrease by 12.03%. The amount of daily energy that could be saved is 14.44 million kWh, which could reduce CO 2 emissions by 10,686 tonnes per day ( Fig. 2 ). The results are described in Fig. 2 .

figure 2

Overview of the benefits of replacing CVs with EVs.

HII would be mitigated by 0.94°C, 14.44 million kWh electricity would be saved daily in summer and about 10,686 tonnes of CO 2 emissions would be eliminated.

Air conditioners used in vehicles are dispersed and the energy consumed by them is difficult to calculate. The energy saving and CO 2 emissions reduction are underestimated, but the benefits are still very remarkable.

According to the definition of specific heat capacity, when specific heat capacity is a constant, temperature variation is proportional to the heat variation. According to Ref. 17 , at standard atmospheric pressure, the specific heat of dry air is 1.005 kJ/(kg × °C) at temperatures ranging from 0°C to 60°C. The average temperature in summer of Beijing is about 24.6°C 18 , so the specific heat capacity of air could almost be regard as a constant in our model. Thus, it is reasonable to assume that the relationship between heat emissions and HII is linear.

There are many reasons for UHIE, three of which are identified as critical factors: the difference in heat emissions, more aerosol particles and different thermal properties of the ground surfaces. It has been found that pollution aerosols have a positive impact on HII in some places 19 , while some other studies have found that aerosols have a negative impact on HII 20 . The impact of aerosol particles on HII is also highly non-linear and uncertain 21 , therefore, they are not taken into consideration in this model. As to the third factor, the replacement of CVs by EVs is a virtual replacement, which does not change the ground surfaces of Beijing, the thermal properties of the ground surfaces are regarded as unchanged in our model.

The methods used in this research are summarized in Fig. 3 .

figure 3

Diagram of the methods.

The data source and procedure of reasoning and estimating are presented. CVs, conventional vehicles; EVs, electric vehicles; HII, heat island intensity.

First, we analysed the decreased heat emissions caused by the replacement of CVs with EVs. Second, based on the statistics of the contribution of air conditioners in buildings to UHIE and the assumed linear relationship between heat emissions and HII, we deduced the impact of anthropogenic heat emissions on HII. Finally, according to the impact of HII changes on air-conditioning consumption in buildings, we achieved the decreased air-conditioning energy consumption by the replacement.

Energy consumed by CVs is all converted to heat and eventually emitted to the air. Engines of CVs convert fuel energy into thermal and mechanical energy. Then the mechanical energy is converted to heat by overcoming mechanical friction, wind and tire rolling resistance. Energy consumed by EVs is also converted to heat eventually.

In Beijing, the average fuel economy of light-duty vehicles was estimated to be 20.6 miles per gallon in 2012 12 . The heat emitted by gasoline combustion per gallon is 130 million J 22 . Therefore, the average heat emitted by CVs per mile would be:

global warming evs project introduction

where P 1 is the heat emissions per mile by a CV, E 1 is the fuel economy, Q 1 refers to the energy contained in a gallon of gasoline.

The electricity consumed by an EV per mile in China ranges from 18 kWh to 25 kWh per 100 kilometres for different models 23 and the average is estimated at 0.346 kWh per mile. 1 kWh is equal to 3.6 million J. The heat emitted by an EV per mile would be:

global warming evs project introduction

where P 2 is heat emissions per mile by an EV, E 2 is the electricity per mile consumed by an EV and Q 2 is the energy contained in 1 kWh.

According to equations (1) and (2) , heat emitted by EVs per mile is 19.8% of that by CVs, as shown in equation (3) :

global warming evs project introduction

where r is the ratio of heat emitted by EVs to that by CVs.

Increment of heat emissions by power plants in Beijing

In 2012, the total electricity consumption of Beijing was 87,430 million kWh. About 28,312 million kWh was generated by thermal power plants in Beijing, accounting for 32.38% of the total electricity consumption 24 . In 2012, there were 5.2 million vehicles in Beijing 25 and the average daily driving distances were 30 miles 23 . If CVs were replaced by EVs, the increment of electricity produced by thermal power plants ( ΔE ) in Beijing would be:

global warming evs project introduction

where N 1 is the number of vehicles in Beijing in 2012, L is the average daily driving miles and e is the ratio of electricity generated by thermal power plants in Beijing to the total electricity consumption of Beijing.

According to the statistics from Ref. 26 , when 1 kWh is produced by Beijing's thermal power plants in 2012, the heat emissions would be 3.48 × 10 6  J. Thus, if CVs were replaced by EVs, the increment of heat emissions by thermal power plants ( H 1 ) in Beijing would be:

global warming evs project introduction

where h 1 is the heat emissions from Beijing's thermal power plants when 1 kWh is produced.

In Beijing in 2012, the daily heat emitted by CVs ( H 2 ) was as following.

global warming evs project introduction

In the summer of 2012, the average load of air conditioners in buildings was approximately 5 million kW 27 . Therefore, the daily heat emitted by air conditioners ( H 3 ) in buildings was:

global warming evs project introduction

where P 5 is the average load of air conditioners and N 2 is the number of hours per day.

If CVs were replaced by EVs, the reduction of daily heat emitted by vehicles ( H 4 ) would be as following.

global warming evs project introduction

If CVs were replaced by EVs, more electricity would be consumed. This would increase power plants' heat emissions in Beijing. Therefore, the total daily reduction of heat emissions ( H 5 ) is calculated as follows.

global warming evs project introduction

HII mitigation

The average HII was 2.77°C during the summer of 2005 in Beijing 28 and 2.90°C in 2009 29 . The data in 2012 are not available from official statistics or academic papers. According to the growth rate of HII from 2005 to 2009, we estimated HII to be 3.0°C in 2012. Heat emissions, mainly caused by vehicles and air conditioners in buildings, contributed to about half of the HII in Beijing 16 . Therefore, if CVs were replaced, in 2012 in Beijing the decreased heat emissions would reduce HII by:

global warming evs project introduction

where ΔHII is the decreased HII resulting from the decreased heat emissions with the replacement and k 1 is the contribution of heat emissions to HII in Beijing.

Reduction of air-conditioning energy consumption

If HII were to decrease by 1°C, the energy consumed by air conditioners in buildings would decrease by 12.8% during the summer in Beijing 11 . Although the estimation in Ref. 16 is based on data from Beijing in 2005, air-conditioning energy consumption has taken an increasing proportion of total energy consumption in recent years 23 , which ensures the validity of our estimation. The reduction of HII resulting from the replacement is near 1°C. We assume the reduction of HII and air-conditioning energy saving is a linear relationship. If CVs were replaced by EVs, during the summer in Beijing, the energy consumed by air conditioners in buildings would decrease by:

global warming evs project introduction

where k 2 is the percentage of the decreased energy consumed by air conditioners in buildings.

The amount of daily energy that could be saved is 14.44 million kWh, reaching 26.75% of the total electricity consumed by EVs, as shown in equations (12) and (13) :

global warming evs project introduction

where Δ P 5 is the decreased energy consumed by air conditioners in buildings with CVs replaced and k 3 is the ratio of Δ P 5 to energy consumed by EVs. With the decrease in air-conditioning energy consumption, less heat would be emitted, which would also contribute to mitigating UHIE and energy saving.

Reduction of CO 2

In 2012 in China, 740 g of CO 2 was emitted when 1 kWh of electricity was supplied to consumers 30 . Therefore, when 14.44 million kWh are saved, CO 2 emissions could be reduced 10,686 tonnes.

The data in this paper are mainly from the government of Beijing and the State Grid Beijing Electric Power Company. In this paper, we have to use some data of other years because some data of 2012 are not available. Therefore, our estimation of the benefits of replacing CVs with EVs is slightly lower than its actual contribution.

According to the analysis and estimation above, the replacement of CVs by EVs can substantially alleviate UHIE in the summer in metropolitan areas, which can improve the local climate, significantly reduce air-conditioning energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, thus helping to address global climate change.

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This research was funded by the National Natural Science Foundation of China under Grant 51107036.

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C.L. and J.L. designed the research; C.L., Y.C., M.Z., J.L. and H.S. performed the research; C.L., M.Z., J.L. and H.S. analysed the data; and C.L., J.L., Y.C., M.Z., J.W., H.S. and Y.G. wrote the paper. All authors reviewed the manuscript.

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Li, C., Cao, Y., Zhang, M. et al. Hidden Benefits of Electric Vehicles for Addressing Climate Change. Sci Rep 5 , 9213 (2015).

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This research aims to define the relationship between electric vehicles (EVs) and the total CO2 emissions of the world. The research question is “does the transition to EVs actually make an impact on the total CO2 emissions”. The dependent variable for this research is the total carbon emissions of 195 countries from 1990 to 2019. This secondary data is obtained from the World Bank. The key independent variable used is the total number of Tesla EVs sold in each country from 1990 to 2019. We use Tesla as the company has an exceptionally high market share in the EV market. Another independent variable used is the energy consumption for each country from 1990 to 2019. We propose to collect the independent variables through an independent data collection company called “bright data”. The results from the preliminary regression analysis show that both the sales number of EVs and the energy consumption are significant. Every EV sold reduces the total CO2 emissions by 26,100 metric tonnes. Every 1 exajoule of energy consumed, increases the CO2 emissions by 30.958 billion metric tonnes. This huge difference in impact suggests that focusing on clean energy would be a better strategy than adopting EVs.

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Renewables and EVs are soaring. It’s still not enough.

As leaders struggle to hammer out a deal on climate change at COP28, global carbon emissions continue to rise

global warming evs project introduction

The last year has been filled with energy news that seems hopeful. The world has now installed more than 1 terawatt of solar panel capacity — enough to power the entire European Union. Purchases of electric vehicles have been surging: Over 1 million vehicles have been sold in the United States this year, with an estimated 14 million sold worldwide. And, looking at the rapid growth in wind, batteries and technologies such as heat pumps, you could be excused for thinking that the fight against climate change might actually be going … well.

But a new analysis, released Tuesday morning local time as world leaders gather in Dubai to discuss the progress in cutting emissions, shows the grim truth: The surge in renewables has not been enough to displace fossil fuels. Global carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels are expected to rise by 1.1 percent in 2023, according to the analysis from the Global Carbon Project.

“Renewables are growing to record levels, but fossil fuels also keep growing to record highs,” said Glen Peters, a senior researcher at the Cicero Center for International Climate Research in Oslo who co-wrote the new analysis.

The growth in emissions comes largely from India and China — which continue to burn large amounts of coal as their citizens use more electricity — and from increases in flying and international shipping. Emissions from aviation, which have been returning to normal levels since the coronavirus pandemic , are projected to grow by a gigantic 28 percent in 2023.

And while emissions are declining slightly in developed countries, such as the United States and the European Union, they aren’t falling quickly enough. Emissions in the United States are projected to decrease by 3 percent this year — American emissions from coal will drop to levels not seen since the early 1900s — while E.U. emissions will fall by about 7 percent.

A single-digit growth in emissions may not sound like much, but global temperatures won’t start to level off until net carbon emissions reach zero. Even if emissions started to plummet rapidly in the next year or so, it would take years to reach zero — and during that time, temperatures would continue to rise.

We looked at 1,200 possibilities for the planet’s future. These are our best hope.

The contrast between the growth in renewables and the continued increase in fossil fuel emissions reflects one of the greatest debates around climate change: whether the growth of clean energy will, on its own, be sufficient to curb planet-warming emissions.

So far, countries around the world are fighting climate change by subsidizing renewable energy rather than putting firm limits on the use of fossil fuels. The Biden administration’s landmark climate bill, the Inflation Reduction Act, funnels about $370 billion toward building wind and solar infrastructure, as well as batteries and electric vehicles — but the United States is still the world’s largest producer (and consumer) of fossil fuels. The European Union does have a system that limits the use of fossil fuels in electricity generation, but it doesn’t yet include cars on the road or other sources of carbon pollution.

Part of that stems from politics: Attempts to tax or limit CO2 emissions have often sparked significant backlash. But many experts say that just boosting clean energy won’t be enough to really cut fossil fuels. “We’re just not putting in policies that push fossil fuels out,” said Peters, the researcher in Oslo. “Fossil fuels just happily keep growing.”

Even at the largest international climate meetings, discussing the end of fossil fuels has triggered contentious fights. Delegates at the U.N. climate conference, known as COP28, are battling over whether agreement language should call for a “ phase out ” or a “phase down” of fossil fuels.

The new data also means that the world is becoming more and more unlikely to hit its goal of keeping the planet from warming more than 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) to avert devastating climate impacts. Although world leaders continue to discuss the goal at global warming talks — U.N. Secretary General António Guterres described the world as “minutes to midnight for the 1.5-degree limit” last week — most climate scientists now believe that global temperatures will pass that threshold sooner rather than later.

“We’re probably so close now, there’s not much that can be done to avoid 1.5,” Peters said. “It’s more about keeping as close to 1.5 as possible.”

More on climate change

Understanding our climate: Global warming is a real phenomenon , and weather disasters are undeniably linked to it . As temperatures rise, heat waves are more often sweeping the globe — and parts of the world are becoming too hot to survive .

What can be done? The Post is tracking a variety of climate solutions , as well as the Biden administration’s actions on environmental issues . It can feel overwhelming facing the impacts of climate change, but there are ways to cope with climate anxiety .

Inventive solutions: Some people have built off-the-grid homes from trash to stand up to a changing climate. As seas rise, others are exploring how to harness marine energy .

What about your role in climate change? Our climate coach Michael J. Coren is answering questions about environmental choices in our everyday lives. Submit yours here. You can also sign up for our Climate Coach newsletter .

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Their batteries hurt the environment, but EVs still beat gas cars. Here's why

Camila Domonoske square 2017

Camila Domonoske

global warming evs project introduction

Tenke Fungurume Mine, one of the largest copper and cobalt mines in the world, is owned by Chinese company CMOC, in southeastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Minerals like cobalt are important components of electric vehicle batteries, but mines that produce them can hurt the environment and people nearby. Emmet Livingstone/AFP via Getty Images hide caption

Tenke Fungurume Mine, one of the largest copper and cobalt mines in the world, is owned by Chinese company CMOC, in southeastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Minerals like cobalt are important components of electric vehicle batteries, but mines that produce them can hurt the environment and people nearby.

Earlier this year, NPR's podcast The Sunday Story reached out for listener questions about electric vehicles. You can hear the resulting podcast here . We're also taking some of the most-asked questions and answering them here on

Electric vehicles are sometimes called "zero-emission vehicles." But the batteries that go into them are not zero-emission at all. In fact, making those batteries takes a lot of (mostly-not-clean) energy and hurts the environment in other ways , a fact that's become common knowledge after widespread media coverage .

You asked, we answered: Your questions about electric vehicles

You asked, we answered: Your questions about electric vehicles

Does that environmental damage cancel out the green benefits of giving up gasoline? Or, as Jennifer Sousie, who owns a Nissan Leaf, put it: "Does the manufacturing and ultimate disposal of the batteries completely negate all the good that the no-emission aspect of my car does?"

The answer is no. Here's why.

Batteries do more harm upfront – then less year after year

With all that's required to mine and process minerals — from giant diesel trucks to fossil-fuel-powered refineries — EV battery production has a significant carbon footprint . As a result, building an electric vehicle does more damage to the climate than building a gas car does.

But the gas car starts to catch up as soon as it goes its first mile.

If you look at the climate impact of building and using a vehicle – something called a "lifecycle analysis" – study after study has found a clear benefit to EVs. The size of the benefit varies – by vehicle, the source of the electricity it runs on, and a host of other factors – but the overall trend is obvious.

"The results were clearer than we thought, actually," says Georg Bieker, with the International Council on Clean Transportation, who authored one of those reports. (This is the group that busted Volkswagen for cheating on its emissions tests. Holding industries accountable for whether they're actually reducing emissions is the ICCT's whole thing. ).

Building a battery is an environmental cost that's paid once. Burning gasoline is a cost that's paid again, and again, and again.

Gasoline's environmental cost is ongoing

Several listeners asked NPR about the negative impacts of mines, beyond carbon emissions. There are several: They disrupt habitats. They pollute with runoff or other waste. And people can suffer in other ways: worker poisonings , child labor , indigenous communities' rights violated and more.

How 'modern-day slavery' in the Congo powers the rechargeable battery economy

Goats and Soda

How 'modern-day slavery' in the congo powers the rechargeable battery economy.

Thea Riofrancos is a political scientist who has sounded the alarm about these impacts. She's glad people are asking these questions – which she'd like to see them do for more than just EVs. "The fact that mined products are in basically everything we use should give us pause," she says.

And, she says, anybody weighing an EV versus a gas-powered car needs to think just as carefully about the other side of the equation: the cost of relying on fossil fuels.

Climate change affects your life in 3 big ways, a new report warns

Climate change affects your life in 3 big ways, a new report warns

The California oil pipeline spill could endanger sea life for years, experts say


The california oil pipeline spill could endanger sea life for years, experts say.

"A traditional car needs mining every day, needs mining every time it's used. It needs the whole extraction complex of fossil fuels in order to power it," she said.

The carbon pollution from burning gasoline and diesel in vehicles is the top contributor to climate change in the U.S . And there are other costs: Oil spills; funding for corrupt oil-rich regimes; the illnesses and preventable deaths caused by pollution from fossil fuels.

Add it up, she says, and if you're concerned about all the harms from mining, you'll still want to choose an EV over a comparable gas car.

New technology and better practices can reduce EVs' footprint

There are several ways that manufacturing EVs could become cleaner.

Public pressure and a shift toward mining in regions with stronger regulations, like the U.S. instead of China, could reduce the harms done in mines. New technology, like a mining method called "direct lithium extraction," could produce minerals with much smaller footprints.

'Frankly astonished': 2023 was significantly hotter than any other year on record

'Frankly astonished': 2023 was significantly hotter than any other year on record

Batteries are also changing. A group called Lead the Charge is evaluating automakers on their efforts to clean up supply chains and source materials ethically; there's a wide range of ratings.

Right now, if you want to avoid cobalt in your battery because of the horrific mining conditions, you could seek out an LFP battery, which is made without cobalt – they're used in vehicles like the Tesla Model 3 and Ford Mach-E. In the future, batteries based on sodium might be an alternative to lithium.

And last but not least, battery minerals can be recycled . This won't meaningfully reduce the need for mining until huge numbers of EVs on the road have reached the end of their lifespan. But eventually, the same molecules of lithium and nickel could be used for many generations of cars – something that can't be said for fossil fuels. (Recycling batteries is also important because it addresses environmental concerns about the risks of throwing them out.)

global warming evs project introduction

A battery pack and a GMC Hummer EV stand outside an event in Lansing, Mich., in 2022. Thea Riofrancos says car shoppers concerned about the environmental impacts of mining for batteries can choose a smaller EV, instead of a behemoth like a Hummer, to minimize the harms. Jeff Kowalsky/AFP via Getty Images hide caption

A battery pack and a GMC Hummer EV stand outside an event in Lansing, Mich., in 2022. Thea Riofrancos says car shoppers concerned about the environmental impacts of mining for batteries can choose a smaller EV, instead of a behemoth like a Hummer, to minimize the harms.

What's best for the planet? Smaller batteries, fewer vehicles

Meanwhile, for people who want to minimize their impact on the environment today, Riofrancos has some advice.

First, ask whether you need a car at all. Riofrancos is a big advocate for bikes and public transit, which have much smaller footprints than an EV. But she also knows first-hand that many parts of the U.S. are not designed for car-free living – after years as a bike commuter, she now lives in Providence, Rhode Island, where that doesn't work. (She tried.)

She and her husband recently replaced their vehicle. "I was not going to buy another car that uses gasoline, knowing what I know about the climate," she says. "But I also have a lot of question marks about EVs, knowing what I know about EV supply chains."

So after careful consideration, she bought an EV. But not just any EV. A used Chevy Bolt, which is a small EV – smaller batteries require less mining. And since it was used, it was both more affordable and already had more than made up for the impacts of its manufacturing through the gasoline it had saved.

It's a global climate solution — if it can get past conspiracy theories and NIMBYs

NPR's Climate Week: A Search For Solutions

It's a global climate solution — if it can get past conspiracy theories and nimbys.

U.S. cut climate pollution in 2023, but not fast enough to limit global warming

U.S. cut climate pollution in 2023, but not fast enough to limit global warming

Listeners worried about battery mining impacts are asking the right questions, Riofrancos says. And the answers are more complicated than "yes" or "no" to EVs – they might include what kind of EV, what size and type of battery, and whether to buy a car at all.

"You know, there's no perfect world out there, but there is better and worse and everything in between," Riofrancos says.

  • climate change
  • environment
  • electric vehicles

No, combustion engines won’t be supplanted by electric vehicles—and they’re critical for sustainable transport

An internal combustion engine

Today, support for a sustainable future of transport is unanimous, and it is rightfully acknowledged that electric vehicles (EVs) will play a critical role in pursuing this transition. However, we also need to remember that there is no one-solution approach to sustainable mobility. Every part of the world, while heading in the same direction, needs the ability to use the solutions that are the best fit for their markets.

For several years, policymakers have experimented with legislative force to influence a complete transition away from internal combustion engines (ICEs). These include the EU’s now-downscaled ban on new ICEs from 2035 onwards, and the Glasgow Declaration commitment at COP26 to end ICE sales globally by 2040.

Legislation can influence the direction of change, but it’s ultimately consumer demand that drives its pace. And the market indicates an enduring demand for ICEs.

Hybrids on the rise

Take the European new-car market, which has seen one of the strongest legislative pushes for an ICE phaseout: Despite this, ICE-powered hybrid registrations rose by 12.6% in March , while battery-electric registrations dropped by 11.3% in the same period. In some markets, like South America, demand remains overwhelmingly in favour of ICEs: Of the 3.1 million new passenger cars sold in the region in 2023, only 90,000 of them were EVs—around 3%.

Along with ICEs enjoying robust demand, they’re also key to deploying pivotal sustainable fuel technologies at scale, such as synthetic e-fuels or green hydrogen. The successful deployment of new fuels is a critical priority for some regions, with automotive leaders like Renault Group CEO Luca de Meo—also president of the European Automobile Manufacturers Association— arguing that hydrogen leadership should be a major project for Europe, if it wishes to compete against China’s booming automotive sector.

By 2030, McKinsey estimates that investments into hydrogen alone will total $320 billion , with annual investment in other sustainable fuel categories averaging $51 billion . To be employed for transport and mobility, these zero- or low-emission fuels will require next-generation ICE powertrains. By using these fuels, hybrids and ICEs can achieve a near-identical carbon footprint to EVs, from cradle-to-grave.

ICEs have a proven track record of leveraging sustainable, alternative fuels. In fact, this is the reason ICEs continue to play a dominant role in some markets, including Brazil: There, clean bioethanol-powered ICEs make up more than 80% of the country’s new vehicle sales. Bioethanol, flex fuels, and other sustainable fuels are established fixtures in many economies, and are set to further grow in adoption as a major component of various national sustainability roadmaps. For example, India plans to roll out a new 20% bioethanol fuel standard next year.

Peak EV adoption

As a result, some industry leaders believe that ICE-powered vehicles will be in the dominant majority for decades, with Toyota chairman Akio Toyoda projecting that global EV adoption will peak at just 30%. In my opinion, the more accurate long-term estimate of EV adoption came in 2019 from S&P, which predicted that 50% of all new passenger and light-duty vehicles sold worldwide would be EVs in 2040.

Regardless of what its exact market share is, the fundamental point is that the internal combustion engine—especially when powered by low-carbon technology and alternative fuels—will remain a significant fixture of the automotive market well into the future.

An understanding as to how resilient ICEs are is spreading across the automotive supply chain, with many in the industry quietly stepping back from earlier commitments to go fully electric within the next five to 10 years. Despite the significant regulatory and investment incentives in the wake of the Glasgow Declaration, the supply chain still needs to respond to demand—and the reality is that demand for ICEs is not falling in the way many have predicted.

EVs are fantastic mobility options in dense, urbanised environments like the EU and China, which helps explain why 85% of new EVs are sold within these markets. However, consumer demand for ICEs remains strong in the global south. Along with persistent regional demand, primary sectors such as agriculture, heavy-duty transport, and energy generation still widely depend on combustion engines.

A joint effort

When considering the future importance of ICEs, we should also remember that there is more to mobility than just passenger cars. There are estimated to be over 300 million trucks and buses worldwide, with the majority using ICEs. These vehicles represent significant capital expenditure for their owners and are set to enjoy many decades of continued use. Introducing flex fuels and retrofitting combustion engines with alternative fuel systems into the existing vehicle mix, at scale, will have a transformational effect on the world’s journey toward sustainable mobility.

Investment in and uptake of differing mobility solutions will, in part, be driven by geography and geopolitics. China, for example, may possess an overwhelming raw material advantage when it comes to EV production, yet other regions contain other resources, such as the Middle East’s natural gas and oil fields, or Europe’s larger vehicle production network. Along with different regions having their own unique demands, they also have their own unique strengths in what they can offer to the global automotive supply chain.

At the heart of the transition toward sustainable transport is continued innovation, powered by open and realistic minds. Rather than viewing this transition as a race between different solutions, we should see it as a joint effort by these solutions to create new paths towards more sustainable futures, and to power tomorrow.

Patrice Haettel is CEO of HORSE, a global leader in innovative and low-emissions powertrain solutions headquartered in Madrid, Spain.

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The opinions expressed in commentary pieces are solely the views of their authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and beliefs of  Fortune .

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