What is the CO2 emission from an electric car?

They’re touting the electric car as a sustainable, non-contaminating alternative to internal combustion vehicles. But the fact that they don’t emit residues into the air by the exhaust pipe does not mean that their CO2 traces are zero, or at even neutral: although less so than gas or diesel cars, electric vehicles also contaminate.

But just what do we understand by the term carbon footprint?

It is an indicator of the amount of carbon dioxide that is emitted into the atmosphere when carrying out some activity. In the case of motor vehicles, the amount is measured over the full active life of the car, from its manufacture (body, interiors, motor, finishing…), its time on the road and its eventual conversion into scrap metal.

If we use as reference a medium-sized vehicle, say a compact car or a B-SUV with an average power of between 120 and 130 horsepower, the production of the electric model would release close to 13 tons of CO2, whereas its gasoline equivalent would be between 5 and 6 tons.

The arm of a car production line

Volkswagen, for example, made a study based on its electric ID.3 model and compared it with another company model, the Volkswagen Golf, in both its diesel and gas versions. The result: the ID.3 emitted 13.7 g/km of CO2 as compared to the 7.1 g/km of the diesel and the 6.8 g/km of the gasoline model. In other words, more than double. 

It is an indicator of the amount of carbon dioxide that is emitted into the atmosphere when carrying out some activity. In the case of motor vehicles, the amount is measured over the full active life of the car, from its manufacture (body, interiors, motor, finishing…), its time on the road and its eventual conversion into scrap metal.

But there’s a reason for the apparent contradiction: the production of the lithium batteries of the electric car is much more contaminating.

According to a report by the Energy Agencies and the Transportation Administration, the average contamination is between 150 and 200 kg of CO2 per kWh of battery. Thus an electric car with a 100 kWh battery will have emitted between 15 and 20 tons of carbon dioxide before even getting on the road.

However it should be noted that these emissions balance out as soon as the electric cars start moving, because they release no noxious articles into the air, unlike the vehicles whose power comes from fossil fuels. But even then there is a caveat: the electricity they consume when recharging their batteries may be leaving a carbon footprint unless it is generated by clean, renewable energies.

To sum up: while in the production of an electric car there will be more carbon dioxide emissions than with an internal combustion engine, over the long run that carbon footprint will be smaller in electric cars than in traditional ones. Thus it’s logical that many governments and companies are promoting this kind of vehicle for the mobility of the future.

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