One of the most common arguments against the mass adoption of electric vehicles is that between the production process and electricity source, EVs don’t actually reduce emissions compared to a standard internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle. It’s an important issue, especially as major automakers roll out a deluge of fresh electric vehicle models, including GM, which promises to launch 30 new EVs globally by 2025. Now, one study is taking a closer look at that argument.
According to a recent study published by Reuters, electric vehicles do in fact create fewer emissions than an equivalent gasoline-powered vehicle – but only after it’s driven 13,500 miles.
The findings are the result of a data analysis using a model developed by the Argonne National Laboratory in Chicago, which incorporates thousands of parameters to determine the environmental impact of electric vehicle production and operation, including things like the metals used in the battery, as well as the amount of plastic and aluminum used in the body. The Argonne model is one of many tools used by the Environmental Protection Agency and California Air Resources Board to help guide vehicle regulations.
According to the principal energy systems analyst at Argonne, Jarod Cory Kelly, EV production creates more carbon than an equivalent ICE-powered vehicle. The “break-even” point is then determined by a variety of factors, including battery size, energy source, and the fuel economy for the equivalent ICE-powered vehicle in question.
Using the Argonne model, Reuters compared a Tesla Model 3 EV to a gas-powered Toyota Corolla. After running the numbers, a 13,500-mile break-even point was determined.
However, the calculations were run using the United States power grid as the energy source, where coal provides an estimated 23 percent of available electricity. If, for example, the Tesla Model 3 was powered up in Norway, where renewable energy prevails, the break-even point arrives much sooner – 8,400 miles, to be exact. Conversely, if the Tesla was recharged in country where the majority of electricity is generated by coal, such as China, the break-even point comes much later – 78,700 miles, per the Reuters calculations.
What’s more, Reuters found that even under a worst-case-scenario wherein electricity is sourced exclusively from a coal-fired powerplant, electric vehicles will, on average, still generate less carbon than an equivalent ICE-powered vehicle, even when accounting for the carbon-intensive production process.