Fossil fuel cars make ‘hundreds of times’ more waste than electric cars – according to a Guardian article, despite what most media tries to claim

This should not be news to people, but because of the rubbish that is spread by many with vested interests in the current situation, it needs to be dealt with again.

So the argument is that because electric cars battery does not last forever, but every part of the combustion engine car does, the electric car is going to make more waste.

Now firstly, the amount of material in an average car battery that is not recyclable is about 30kg on average. This has been falling at good speeds over time, but it is likely that this number will never reach zero. Currently, it is estimated that a tesla looses about 5% of its range for every 100,000 miles it travels. Tesla will replace your battery for free if it looses 30% of its capacity over an 8 year period (suggesting that it will only need to replace the battery of cars which have driven over half a million miles). When looking at articles on this issue, the figures range from about 100,000 to twice that (with a life span of 8-17 years). Now obviously this varies from brand to brand. Importantly, cars without active cooling for their brand sees greatly increased range loss over time.

In terms of charging – that is harder to generalize, as it varies from country to country. In the UK electricity from the grid has a carbon footprint of around 233 grams per kwh. Giving you a carbon footprint as low as 50g per mile. However, in most of the world it is also possible to generate your own electricity from solar. While the panels have an inherent carbon footprint to make, this spread over all the electricity they make is likely to work out at incredibly low carbon – often low enough to essentially round to zero.

Now it is true that electric cars can have 30% higher carbon footprint manufacturing them, due to the energy intensive processes of collecting and refining the materials used, however it is also true that this gap is narrowing.

Given all this, why is the Guardians article still right? Because all combustion engine cars run on a fuel that not only adds roughly the fuels weight to the the atmosphere in carbon dioxide. However, there is another factor that is often overlooked.

Most analysts compare the carbon footprint of electricity to the carbon footprint of tailpipe emissions.

This is not right

If we are comparing like for like, we need to do more. We need to compare tailpipe emissions, and then we need to compare emissions from creating the fuel.

  • Tailpipe emissions: Well this is a relatively simple sum. On the pure electric side, we have 0kg emissions by definition. On the combustion engine side, we have around 50kg of carbon emissions per tank used (and for the average family, this will work out at around 2 metric tonnes over the year. A clear win for Electric
  • Now we need to look at generation emissions.
    • An electric car in the UK charged from the mains (this should be an upper estimate, as any solar panels or other home and charging station generation will reduce this) has a carbon footprint of about 233g (2020 figure, likely to have dropped already). Worldwide, the average size for an electric car battery has been increasing currently standing at around 45 kilowatt hours. We can assume the average in the UK is larger so will say 60kwh for simplicity will be about 16kg, or 50g a mile (remember this is an extreme upper limit).
    • Carbonindependent estimates that the carbon emissions per gallon is 14.3kg of which 2.7kg is from the burning of the fuel itself. This means that per gallon extraction transport and storage of the fuel is about 11.6kg, or 2.5kg per litre, therefore with an average tank (assuming 50kg which while accurate for small cars will be way to low for larger ones) the generation emissions are about 125kg. Again a clear win for electric

We are in the process of buying an electric car. We have always driven old bangers, so the price is far higher than we have ever spent, but it will still be a saving over time. For us the bigger factor is that we will be cutting our direct emissions by about 2 tonnes and our indirect emissions by as much as 5 tonnes (I believe including the generation emissions for fossil fuels is the only fair way to do it)

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