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The Debate Over Electric Car Related Pollution is Back On!

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On: Wed, Jul 24, 2013 at 1:24PM | By: Elizabeth Puckett

The Debate Over Electric Car Related Pollution is Back On!

The debate over how much pollution is created by electric cars has heated back up with the rise of sales of EVs in the United States. Even though this vehicles don’t require gasoline to power their engines, there’s still plenty of waste associated with the manufacturing, transportation, and operating and EVs. There’s a lot of factors which are fueling this debate but the biggest focus is on the impact of charging an electric vehicle. 

Even though batteries for electric vehicles do need metals and nonrenewable resources, the effect of manufacturing is insignificant in comparison to the massive amount of CO2 emissions from oil refining.

When electric vehicles do become more popular and are driven by the hundreds of millions, issues concerning toxic compounds used in manufacturing and industrial processes will need to be addressed -- but that’s still not the major issue at the center of these debates.

One of the most vital questions when discussing pollution caused by electric vehicles is what impact charging has on the environment. More importantly, what happens when electric vehicles are dominating the roads a few decades from now?

As referenced in the 2010 National Academy of Science’s report on the Hidden Costs of Energy, electric vehicles are a little more than questionable. The author of this assessment, Ozzie Zehner from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, pointed out that the over the lifecycle of an electric car, it causes greater health and environmental damages than gas powered cars -- but that doesn’t mean they have the same or greater impact on climate change as gasoline vehicles, which is a more pressing issue currently.

The NAS study highlights that the power grid must make up the majority of power from sources that are not fossil fuels for EVs to actually equate to any environmental savings. Ultimately, the recommendations from the study call for changes in society over manufacturing of vehicles -- the report recommends an increase of walking, biking, and public transit for transportation.

The more current study by the NAS draws many of the same conclusions in the Alternative Vehicles and Fuels report. Its conclusion is that the impact of electric vehicles is still dependent on how you power them in the future.

While there are drawbacks to using any kind of energy when charging, the bottom line comes down to amount of CO2 emissions from gasoline use versus the amount used by power plants which make the energy to power battery cars the same distance.

When burning a gallon of gas, it produces 8,887 grams of CO2 -- this is of course when the vehicle burning it meets all EPA vehicle emissions standards. This is the same as using 10 kWhrs of electricity.

According to one review, a 2011 gasoline powered Mini Cooper gets 31 miles to the gallon, or 3.22 gallons of gas over 100 miles, equating to around 32 kWhrs of electricity over 100 miles. The electric version, the Mini E uses 22 kWh for 100 miles. As you can see, the electric version uses much less energy.

Still, if electric vehicles become more common, the source of their power will need to come from renewable resources to really solve any problems caused by transportation pollution.


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