We debunk the most common electric vehicle fallacies in our new series. First, we investigate whether electric vehicles have a lower carbon footprint than gasoline-powered vehicles.
While most automakers are rushing to bring electric and electrified vehicles to market as fast as possible, a sizable portion of the public remains dubious about the EV revolution. Unfortunately, this has resulted in a slew of falsehoods and half-truths regarding electric vehicles, which we’re eager to dispel.
We’re going to start debunking those beliefs, and we’re going to start with the most common. Many people believe that electric vehicles are worse for the environment than gasoline-powered vehicles. Today, we’ll get into the details, crunch the figures, and see how much of that assertion is true.
On the surface, it appears absurd that a battery-powered automobile, which produces no emissions, could have a greater detrimental impact on the environment than one that continuously emits carbon dioxide and other pollutants. But, of course, the truth goes far deeper than that.
Even if an electric vehicle is running smoothly while transporting you to work, the electricity that fuels it needs to come from someplace. Critics claim that this is the source of the problem. Unfortunately, many parts of the world still derive the bulk of their power from coal or natural gas, emitting a considerable amount of CO2. Those who criticize EVs argue that they are no better than a car with an internal combustion engine if you do the arithmetic.
True? Let me lay down a few ground rules before getting started with the figures. First, all the calculations are predicated on driving within the United States of America. Why? To estimate the environmental effect of what we drive, we’re fortunate to have access to various data and calculators compiled by the Environmental Protection Agency. That’s not to say our findings aren’t relevant everywhere globally, but depending on your region’s renewable energy mix, you may need to skew the statistics one way or the other.
Second, I’m just going to discuss CO2 emissions in this article. CO2 is the most straightforward approach to evaluate the environmental effect of an EV and an ICE automobile because it is the major contributor to climate change.
Which automobiles are you referring to? On the EV front, the choice is simple: Tesla’s Model 3. It’s the world’s most popular (or at least best-selling) electric vehicle. However, finding a straight comparison on the gas-powered side may be difficult, so I went with the BMW M340i xDrive. It’s comparable in price to the Tesla, has similar power (382 horsepower), and all-wheel drive.
Let’s get to the math. Even inside the United States, your location significantly influences your overall emissions. I wanted to conduct the worst-case scenario calculations for the EV, so I chose the location with the most polluting energy source. The Midwest Reliability Organization East, according to the EPA, is a sector of the grid in the middle region of the continental US that obtains just 14 percent of its power from renewable sources. Assume for a minute that you reside in Green Bay, Wisconsin, for these computations.
And how does that appear? Aside from being uncomfortably chilly in the winter and very cheesy all year, a Tesla Model 3 emits 210 grams of CO2 each mile driven in Wisconsin. This includes emissions from the creation of the power that drives the automobile and the overhead and losses associated with carrying that power over our aging system.
What about the BMW? Where you drive a gas-powered automobile has little effect on its emissions. BMW claims that the M340i xDrive produces 168 grams of carbon every kilometer, equating to 269 grams of carbon per mile when divided by 1.6. Even while charging on the dirtiest power in the US, this is far higher than the Tesla. Is this a closed case? Not yet, at least.
According to the Department of Energy, for every four gallons of gas consumed in the United States, an extra gallon is consumed simply by delivering the gas to the pump. So BMW’s carbon production needs to be increased by another 25%. This puts us at 336 grams of CO2 per mile, nearly 50% more than Tesla.
But don’t get too excited just yet EV supporters; we’re not done yet. To be completely accurate, we must analyze the environmental effect of Tesla’s battery pack manufacturing. Unfortunately, we won’t be able to do so with 100 percent assurance. Why? We have to rely on other experts because Tesla doesn’t share any information on this. I reviewed hundreds of papers attempting to reverse-engineer the environmental effect of Tesla battery manufacture. Still, most of them were missing key details, such as disregarding the impact of raw material mining.
The most thorough depiction came from a report called Circular Energy Storage, which was based on data from the Argonne National Lab (PDF), which releases incredibly detailed numbers and data on the environmental effect of all types of vehicles. For example, according to the statistics, a 100 kilowatt-hour Tesla battery pack produces 7,300 kg of CO2. We can cut that amount to 5,500 kg of CO2 using the Model 3’s 75 kWh battery pack.
That means Tesla has a big challenge before it ever leaves the showroom floor. But, using the per-mile data above, we can calculate how long it would take to compensate. What is the solution? The typical American drives 47,413 miles per year, or over three years. Following that, the Tesla Model 3 has made up for its shortfall and will always be cleaner than the BMW.
But keep in mind that this is the worst-case scenario. Instead, if you drive your EV up to Alaska, where renewable energy is used at the greatest rate in the continental US, the Model 3 emits just 130 grams of CO2 per mile. The break-even mark is now 26,699 miles or two years of ordinary driving.
That’s all there is to it. Even when utilizing coal-fired energy and considering the manufacturing of the battery pack, EVs have a lower environmental effect than typical gasoline-powered vehicles.
What happens if the battery packs lose their ability to retain a charge? What’s more, how long will that take? And how much money can you save by using an electric vehicle instead of gasoline? Stay tuned for the next part of EVs Exposed for all of these answers and more!

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