Can an electric vehicle (EV) produce more carbon dioxide than an internal combustion engine (ICE)?
Can an electric vehicle (EV) produce more carbon dioxide than a diesel engine? In an internal combustion engine (ICE), a chemical reaction releases CO2. No such emission occurs when an EV is running, but the processes used to produce and power EVs involve several CO2-emitting steps.
The main distinctions between the two types of vehicles are the battery and, as a result, the charging technology: electric current versus gas. Whereas a traditional car uses an ICE and a battery pack to start up and provide on-board services, EVs employ electric motors and a high-voltage, high-capacity battery pack, as well as a variety of powertrain technologies. To compare the environmental impact of the two types of cars, we must measure CO2 emissions, which are a function of energy consumption in each phase of their respective life and operating cycles: raw material acquisition, production, use, disposal, and recycling. The entire electrical grid that is used for charging is also a factor.
The green transition to EVs necessitates decarbonization of the entire energy infrastructure. The process for going about this may differ by country and will be determined by a number of factors, the most important of which is the level of renewable energy used in each country. The more skewed a country’s grid is toward fossil fuels, the lower the emissions benefits of EVs will be in comparison with conventional cars. This means that if you’re driving an EV in the U.S., where fossil fuels have accounted for more than 50% of the country’s energy production in recent years, you’re likely to release more CO2 into the atmosphere than if you were driving the same car in Iceland, where hydroelectric, geothermal, and solar power are dominant.
The use of sustainable resources to recharge EVs is crucial. CO2 emissions will be much higher if these cars are not powered by solar panels, wind turbines, nuclear power, or hydroelectric power. Another consideration for reduced environmental impact is the battery. The convenience of an EV is directly proportional to its lifetime, which includes the life of the battery pack.
The manufacturing cycle of a car involves the extraction, processing, and fabrication of the various raw materials needed to build the components that will be assembled to produce the car itself. The steps involved in battery manufacturing generate an increase in “invisible” emissions, putting greener proposals at a disadvantage.
Batteries are making the most progress in terms of energy density, recharging speed, recycling, and durability, thanks to recent and ongoing technological developments. While an EV may pollute more than a petrol/diesel vehicle under certain circumstances and according to analyst assumptions, these are temporary or localized situations that will soon become marginal. The impact of battery production is usually counterbalanced by six to 18 months of electric driving.
There have been significant developments in this area as a result of the sector’s strong growth and increased sales of EVs, and we will undoubtedly better amortize the disposal of batteries in the coming years, making the process much greener.
EVs (which may or may not be zero-emission) are a greener option to today’s endothermic engines, which, as we all know, will be phased out over the next few years. To be genuinely sustainable, road transportation must be electrified and complemented by suitable measures. This includes investing in renewable energy to accelerate the energy shift, as well as ensuring that cars have a sufficiently long operating life to amortize the additional energy used in the EV manufacturing process.
This article was originally published on EE Times Europe.
Maurizio Di Paolo Emilio holds a Ph.D. in Physics and is a telecommunication engineer and journalist. He has worked on various international projects in the field of gravitational wave research. He collaborates with research institutions to design data acquisition and control systems for space applications. He is the author of several books published by Springer, as well as numerous scientific and technical publications on electronics design.