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Electric cars are less green to make than gasoline cars, but make up for it in less than a year, new analysis shows

Electric vehicles are more carbon-intensive to manufacture compared to gasoline cars, but drivers make up for those additional carbon costs by driving just 7,000 miles in the UK, a new analysis found.

According to an analysis by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT), an independent research organization based in Berlin, an average mid-range gasoline engine, about the size of a VW Golf, causes around 7.2 tons of CO2 emissions.

In comparison, the production of an electric car of a similar size causes around 9.2 tons of CO2 emissions. Most of the additional pollution associated with an electric vehicle is due to the battery, which is carbon intensive to manufacture.

But the analysis by ICCT shared with I, shows that this “carbon debt” can be offset after 7,061 miles of electric vehicle travel in the UK.

While gasoline cars spit exhaust gases out of the exhaust pipe, electric cars run on electricity from the grid and thus emit significantly fewer emissions on the way.

ICCT calculated that a battery electric car powered by the UK grid produces 35g of CO2 per km, compared to the average gasoline car that emits 211g of CO2 per km.

In England, the average new car will drive around 10,400 miles in each of its first three years on the road, according to RAC. Based on this mileage, a new electric car will break even in less than a year compared to a gasoline-powered vehicle.

Dr. Georg Bieker, researcher at ICCT, added the British numbers I‘s request. He separately assessed the carbon impact of the production and use of electric vehicles around the world.

He said UK EV drivers would break even more quickly on their car’s carbon cost in the UK than anywhere else in the world, including the EU, as the UK electricity grid uses more renewable energy. In 2020, the last year for which figures are available, renewable energies such as wind and sun generated 43 percent of grid electricity.

“Great Britain has a cleaner network than the European average and with it the advantages [of driving an electric car] are even higher, ”he said I.

For example, in the US, where more coal is burned to produce electricity, an electric vehicle would have to travel 14,167 miles (22,800 km) before breaking even with a gasoline car.

Bigger electric cars with bigger batteries would have to be driven a little farther to break even with a gasoline engine, as would electric cars from China, which is heavily reliant on coal.

But over the course of an 18-year lifetime in the UK, with an average annual mileage of 13,500 km, even the largest “SUV” electric cars have a lifetime carbon footprint that is more than 50 tons lower than that of a comparable petrol car.

ICCT performed the same comparison between battery electric cars and diesel cars and gave almost the same results, said Dr. Bieker.

The results agree with an analysis by the consulting firm Ricardo AEA for the European Commission and a separate assessment of the climate website Carbon Brief. However, it deviates significantly from the calculations of the automotive industry.

In November, Volvo released life cycle calculations for its C40 Recharge, suggesting that the electric SUV would have to drive 48,000 miles in the EU to break even with a similar gasoline engine.

More to Electric vehicles

As the industry scales for electric cars and lithium-ion batteries, electric car production is expected to become more efficient, making electric vehicle production less carbon intensive. But the trend towards bigger cars with bigger batteries could partially offset this advancement, warned Dr. Bieker.

Transport researchers also emphasize that walking, cycling or public transport is still by far the cleanest mode of transport. The UK’s climate advisors say car traffic will have to decrease by nearly 20 percent by 2050 to meet the country’s net-zero targets.

“The best choice for the climate would always be not to drive a car at all,” said Dr. Bieker. “Electric cars are not good. They are just a lot less bad than conventional cars. “

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