Are Electric Cars More Harmful To The Environment?

Electric cars have been frequently touted as being more environmentally friendly than standard petrol vehicles. This point, as many of you know is a key differentiator that most of the electric car companies use heavily in their marketing, both on and offline.

However, this view of electric cars being less environmentally damaging, although the most popularly held, is not the only one being bought to public attention. There is a small but vocal group that argue that electric cars may actually be more harmful to the environment than the gas guzzling beasts most commonly seen on our roads today.

So, are electric cars more harmful to the environment? The people at did some research, the answer is not clear cut and is dependent on a number of factors which we will be discussing below.

yes no

Groups that assert that electric cars are more harmful to the environment than petrol cars centre their arguments around two major points, some of which are mentioned in a key study conducted by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.

The main arguments are;

  1. The production process of the electric car is more damaging to the environment than that of the non-electric cars, as “EVs exhibit the potential for significant increases in human toxicity, freshwater eco-toxicity, freshwater eutrophication, and metal depletion impacts, largely emanating from the vehicle supply chain”.
  2. The generation of the electricity needed to produce and later run the electric cars still often requires the burning of fossil fuels that are damaging to the environment. In some cases the burning of fossil fuels for car production is greater for electric cars which need more electricity to produce compared to non-electric cars.

With regards to the first point, a number of leading electric car manufacturers are increasingly doing more to make sure they are producing their vehicles in the least environmentally damaging way possible.

On the second point, even the Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s, Guillaume Majeau-Bettez who has criticised electric cars has said, as mentioned by the BBC, that the electric cars success from an environmental standpoint is largely dependant on “how much we can clean up our electricity grid – both for the electricity you use when you drive your car, and for the electricity used for producing the car.” So a solution is posed. And on this note it is worth mentioning Tesla, a company who make it a priority to produce and run their cars using solar energy. But, harking back to Bettez’s point, the Tesla way has to become the mainstream way if the true environmental benefits of electric cars are to be realised. And there already seems to be a move in the right direction in the UK as according to the Department for Energy and Climate Change, “by 2020 it is estimated that coal will provide only 11% of electricity”, with the assumption being that most if not all of the remaining 89% of electricity production is going to be coming from renewable, clean sources.

The Electric Car Guide: Nissan LEAF: The ultimate buyer's guide to the world's most popular electric car (Greenstream Eco Guides)

The Electric Car Guide: Nissan LEAF: The ultimate buyer's guide to the world's most popular electric car

It is also worth mentioning that the criticisms of the negative environmental impact of electric cars outlined in this article have been largely based on studies by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology which itself has been criticised by some for having links with oil company Statoil. However the university stresses that no oil money was used to fund the research and that their results are published online so are free to be challenged and scrutinised by other parties.

Furthermore, other studies such as the one conducted by the Union of Concerned Scientists which analysed emissions and costs for both electric cars and gasoline-powered car from a well-to-wheel perspective (including drilling, refining, burning for gas and mining coal, making electricity for electric vehicles) found greater benefits coming from electric vehicle technology than that determined by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s.

So as we mentioned at the start of this article, when asking the question are electric cars more harmful to the environment than standard vehicles, the answer is not a clear cut yes or no, it’s dependent on a number of factors and the response varies depending on who you ask and what their motives are.

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