Resources about Electric VehiclesReference material at your fingertips.
Reference material about electric vehicles
This page is intended to compile useful reports and information about plug-in electric vehicles (and eventually fuel cells).
At time of writing (Nov 2018) the website is in Minimum Viable Product mode; this section will be fleshed out further as time avails.
Are EVs cleaner than combustion vehicles?
Short answer: yes.
Long answer: yes. Even on a coal-based grid, electric vehicles produce fewer CO2 emissions over their lifecycle than combustion vehicles. The added emissions involved in mining the battery materials and then manufacturing the battery are far smaller than the avoided emissions from not directly combusting fossil fuels. The Union of Concerned Scientists published a detailed report on this issue, though it only covers the United States. Here are the executive summary and the full report.
CO2 emissions from battery production were recently estimated at 140 kg CO2/kWh. Now, battery-electric vehicles don’t need a combustion engine or drivetrain, so the emissions savings from not manufacturing these might offset the first ~15 kWh of batteries.
It should also be noted that most of the world’s cobalt production comes from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where human rights and labour conditions need to be greatly improved. It would be small comfort to the artisanal miners there if we reduce GHG emissions at their expense.
source: the paper by Kim et al referenced above (“140 kg CO2/kWh”)
Will EVs keep getting cleaner than combustion vehicles?
Short answer: yes, but not as quickly as you might think.
Long answer: this is a nuanced question. As battery technology improves, we will be able to store more energy in less material. Generally speaking, if you can make a product smaller and lighter — and this continues to happen with batteries — it will require fewer emissions to produce. The emissions involved in producing 5 tonnes of steel will be about half the emissions involved in producing 10 tonnes.
The world is also slowly (agonizingly slowly) turning to renewable energy, so over time, gradually fewer emissions will be associated with the energy required to mine the battery materials, make the batteries, and one day recycle them.
BUT … over time, EV batteries have been getting bigger! In the past decade, the Nissan Leaf has gone from 24 kWh … to 30 kWh … to 40 kWh … and soon, to a 60 kWh version. Give them another 5 years and they’ll probably offer 100 kWh versions. A 60 kWh Nissan Leaf will have higher lifecycle emissions than a 24 kWh Leaf. Now, they’ll still be far, far, far, far better than combustion vehicles!
It’s simply important for us zero-emission vehicle advocates to acknowledge that as EV batteries get bigger, the vehicles’ lifecycle emissions will increase a bit. And that’s okay — after all, we’ll get a lot more people ditching their combustion vehicles to buy 60 kWh Nissan Leafs instead of 24 kWh Nissan Leafs.
Are EVs the best form of transportation for the future?
Short answer: no.
Long answer: oh, hell no. And admitting this will serve EV advocates well in our conversations with urban planners and sustainability experts.
Setting aside e-bikes and electric buses, EVs are about the second-least-worst form of transportation. They’re still desirable over the alternative, of course. They’re best thought of as a “harm reduction” approach — the methadone of sustainable transportation, if you will. Maybe not the ultimate ideal, but a definite and significant step forward.