Study Finds Electric Vehicles May Not Provide the Environmental Benefits Which They Claim

If the electricity suppling this car was made from a coal power plant, it could be contributing to more pollution in the atmosphere than a traditionally fueled vehicle. (Photo: Wikimedia)

TheBlaze has reported on the not so green side of electric cars before — those being charged with electricity from coal-fired power plants contribute more pollution than their gasoline-fueled counterparts. Now, a report of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology takes a look at the manufacturing of electric vehicles and found that’s not so great for the environment either.

“Although EVs are an important technological breakthrough with substantial potential environmental benefits, these cannot be harnessed everywhere and in every condition,” the study authors write. “Our results clearly indicate that it is counterproductive to promote EVs in areas where electricity is primarily produced from lignite, coal, or even heavy oil combustion.”

Published in the Journal of Industrial Ecology, the researchers found the production of electric vehicles is “more environmentally intensive” than those with an internal combustion engine. Producing the electric powertrains and traction batteries are among the factors that “add significantly to the environmental impacts” of production.

The study also took a look at the environmental impact of electric vehicles compared to traditional cars when it comes to actually taking them on the road. Like the study we reported on earlier this year, EVs with electricity supplied by coal were found to have more of a “global warming potential” — increasing it by a factor of 17 to 27 percent — compared to traditional cars. EVs using electricity supplied by the “average” European source reduced global warming potential by 20 to 24 percent though.

“Because production impacts are more significant for EVs than conventional vehicles, assuming a vehicle lifetime of 200,000 km exaggerates the GWP benefits of EVs to 27 percent to 29 percent relative to gasoline vehicles or 17 percent to 20 percent relative to diesel because production-related impacts are distributed across the longer lifetime,” the study states.

The authors also found “human toxicity potential” (HTP) was a “potentially significant category” when it comes to making the shift between EVs and traditional cars. They write that HTP estimates increase with EVs in production and use compared to combustion-engine vehicles. These health impacts come from the mining of metal and coal used by EVs.

The researchers do acknowledge in the study though that with these results, it is important to remember since EVs are new to the market and mass production, “it is difficult to fix specific values for some of the parameters influencing the impacts of EVs.”

Still, overall they write their best estimate for global warming potential of just producing electric vehicles is twice that of previously reported studies. This is because they found higher impacts as they related to the battery and included other electronic components of the car in their assessment. The team states that this inventory is “a significant improvement in transparency.”

For electric vehicles to provide the environmental benefits that are often already ascribed to them, the study authors believe improvements need to be made as to the materials being used to make electric vehicles and the sources that power them for them first.

Read more technical details of the review in the full study here.

(H/T: Business Insider)