Engineering Explained Busts Myths: EVs Not Worse For Environment


Naysayers will never stop efforts to convince people that EVs are bad for the environment, but the truth is a different story.

There are plenty of arguments that attempt to put electric cars in the dog house when in comes to their environmental friendliness claims. Manufacturing the batteries (and the vehicles) causes plenty of emissions. Electricity comes from fossil fuels, so the pollution source is still present, it’s just shifted. Mining for materials used to make batteries is dangerous and bad for the environment.

The above arguments have been spewed for years, and if you don’t have advanced knowledge or understanding of the subject, they can come across as very believable. However, no matter how you slice it, EVs are cleaner than ICE cars. In addition, as time moves forward, they become exponentially cleaner, while many gas-powered cars are moving in the opposite direction.

Take a close look at the video above and share it to help dispel the myths. One of the best ways to increase EV adoption is through education, and electric car owners need to be the number once advocates. This would be a great story to have on hand during upcoming holiday engagements to help convince your friends and family to switch to an EV.

Please share your knowledge and insight in the comment section below.

Video Description via Engineering Explained on YouTube:

Are Electric Cars Worse For The Environment? Myth Busted

Are Electric Cars Greener Than Gasoline Powered Cars? The Facts About Electric Cars & The Environment – Sponsored by FE

Electric cars are touted as a solution for reducing emissions and improving the environmental impacts of transportation, but are electric cars actually any better for the environment than gasoline cars? This video looks to answer three main questions:

1) Doesn’t EV battery production cause a lot of emissions?

2) Don’t electric cars get their power from fossil fuels?

3) Isn’t lithium mining terrible for the environment?

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70 Comments on "Engineering Explained Busts Myths: EVs Not Worse For Environment"

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I seem to recall Adam Ruins Everything did a hit piece on EVs sharing all this. I am glad someone put the counter-arguments out there.

Adam’s not an engineer, and numbers (facts) were lacking. If only the world is run by engineers…

Ron Swanson's Mustache

Even when he’s right (which is way less often than he claims) he’s still got the most punchable of faces.

Broken clock is correct twice a day.

But, when a Broken Clock starts Ticking, it’s A bomb!

Ron Swanson's Mustache

Adam Conover is the perfect example of everything wrong with current issues advocacy. Pompous, self-satisfied, and smug over the most facile, surface-level analysese.

Unlike ICE vehicles,as they age, EVs won’t increase their emissions. One out of tune ICE vehicle can spew more pollutants than over 100 new ICE vehicles.

As they age, EVs get cleaner as the grid gets cleaner. ICE vehicles emit until they die….

Actually yes – EVs do pollute more as they age. As battery ages internal resistence increases, you need to charge more to get same level of charge and you get less out of it when discharging (basically heat is wasted on heating of the battery instead of charging it or on usefull work when discharging). At the same time older battery has higher self-discharge rate.

You’re referring to dendrite build-up, which increases impedance in the battery. But this is being offset at a much faster pace by the fact the grids are getting cleaner.

I still take issue with the energy gov site and how they calculate emissions in their charts. It’s a great tool but it makes too many erroneous assumptions that are weighted against EVs. In their chart they show that EVs generate more emissions in WV than a hybrid. But when you click on the assumptions button and dig into their methodology you find it’s sloppy and it’s inputs for EVs are a couple of years old. For example they use “Sales weighted average of 2016 model year vehicles with sales in 2015” for both EVs and HEVs. I mean in the EV world 3 years is like 15 years of development in hybrid world. Then there is the problem of comparing sales weighted averages between two different alternative drivetrains and it becomes an apples to watermelons comparisons. Sales weighting HEVs gives you almost exclusively small, slow Priuses across the board while sales weighting EVs gives you (in 2015 sales at least) a large percent of full sized powerful Teslas and older less efficient Leafs. So fast forward, or slow forward, 3 years and the majority of EV sales, at least in the US, is the Model 3 which is still… Read more »

Yeah, there are problems with the “official” assumptions at the U.S. Govt’s energy website. For example, rating nuclear power plants for efficiency as if they’re coal-fired power plants. This despite the fact that nuclear power plants use zero fossil fuel and have zero carbon emissions!

The numbers also ignore the fact that a significant percentage of EV drivers have home solar power installations, which makes the energy used to charge them even cleaner.

Well to wheel, running an EV is actually cleaner (in terms of lower air pollution) than the official numbers indicate.

Building a nuclear plant, extracting and transporting the fuel etc. aren’t zero emission. Much less than a coal plant obviously, but not zero.

I would think building a nuclear plant which can take years and supplying the fuel plus controlling the waste and then decommissioning would be even dirtier than coal, certainly more of a hazard to humans.

The production of solar panels also uses energy and causes pollution during production, wind turbines needs lots of rare earth (neodymium) in their pma’s , as do tidal power turbines, nothing is for free …. so the true life cycle cost and pollution must be honestly compared without any bias.

The catalysts of Diesel and gasoline engines and the catalysts in oil refineries are using tons of precious metals (platinum, rhodium, palladium ….) all much rarer and more costly than ‘rare earth’ used in pma’s by the way, but vested interests of Big Oil likes to hide this facts.

As close to zero emission as it gets. And much lower than solar. 🙂

Well, now that House committees will have scientists again, some of these things can change. Once 45 is kicked to the curb, then the EPA can be purged of the industry insiders and re-staffed with scientists.

The problem isn’t the facts. It’s the appetite for the facts. I’ve seen time and time again where the facts get in the way of the political narrative, and in the end, emotion always wins.

“EVs Not Worse For Environment” ??

Isn’t that kinda like saying “Rolls-Royces are not worse than Yugos” ??

The reality of the situation calls for a stronger statement: EVs are significantly better for the environment than gasmobiles of similar power.

From Union of Concerned Scientists: “Cleaner Cars from Cradle to Grave”

And the EVs could be better if the countries bet for susteinable sources for electricity production. Unfortunately, ICE cars have no improving capacity.

BUT, there’s always a caveat to… It depends where you live. In some places it’s still cleaner overall to drive an ICE vehicle (for example several provinces in Canada and China) because of the heavy reliance on fossil fuels (especially coal). Many locations are borderline (such as the 35mpg states in the UCS paper), but in most of Canada, the US and Europe an EV is better for the environment* There are also other benefits, and one of the main drivers for China – things like the removal of particulates from city streets and increasing air quality in densely populated areas. I’d highly recommend reading the UCS paper (rather than watching a video sponsored by Formula E.) and reading a few of the other papers and letters out there, for example General rule of thumb is if your electricity supply produces less than 500-700t/GWh of CO2 then a EV is more beneficial for the environment, if it produces more than that then an ICE may be better on the CO2 front. For a smaller and larger vehicles will be at either end of that spectrum. *Until we hit the laws of unintended consequences and realise 50 years down the… Read more »

The UCS study is actually pessimistic, since it a) uses old data for grid emissions (it’s better by now, as coal gets displaced, especially older less efficient plants); and b) it uses outdated data for average EV efficiency. If you take that into account, there is probably no place where driving a comparable combustion car produces less carbon than an EV. (Though there might still be a few places where a good hybrid wins right now…)

It’s not just the UCS paper, have a look at the other one linked. It’s also worth remembering that ICE vehicles aren’t standing still either. They have also increased their efficiency. The reality is, for most it is more efficient to own an EV (but the debate is still out there as to whether it’s better environmentally to stick with your current ICE vehicle) but for certain areas that rely heavily on coal it is more polluting to do so. Three years isn’t much in the grand scheme of things for electrical generation.

That doesn’t mean in those polluting areas that you shouldn’t buy an EV however. In those areas you should look to a “green”/renewable tariff instead – which is the case in most areas around the world in fact.

Either way, I’ll stick with the UCS and papers published by the Nature group on efficiency over a youtube video sponsored by Formula Electric. That is until another proper paper is released with up to date information, rather than back of the napkin calculations from people on websites – which is usually where the rest of the information comes from. That’s how science works.

If you compare the UCS study with their previous one, using a couple years older data, you will see that three years actually makes *a lot* of difference.

As for combustion cars getting more efficient… Not really. Efficiency gains mostly get negated by larger engines. Only times when typical efficiency actually improves is when oil gets vastly more expensive…

According to the UCS study, the very worst states had the “average” EV equal a 35 MPG combustion car a couple of years ago. While there are some combustion cars that can achieve that, the EV models most directly competing with these will typically have better efficiency than the average.

I don’t think you can just dismiss the “end of life” part of the equation.
Currently, most lithium batteries end up in the landfill. That will have to change —- it will cost energy and money.

Where do you get your information? Lithium batteries are too valuable to throw in the landfill and currently get repurposed for stationary uses. In the future, battery recycling will be the norm, just like it is for lead-acid batteries. Maybe you mean lithium phone batteries are ending up in the landfill.

Yup. I would certainly bet that nearly all EV batteries will end up in second life applications like energy storage. It isn’t rocket science to pull the cells out and place them in a different case and the “value” of used cells is likely to be reasonably high because new cell costs won’t be that much less than 100$ a kWh. My guess is that you won’t see 2nd life energy storage become a thing for at least a few more years when the first generation of EVs are ready to be retired or upgraded. After their 2nd life application, I bet it will still be economically feasible to recycle the Cobalt and Lithium (3rd life?). The beauty of an EV battery is that the scale at which you can recycle. A consumer might see an old phone or phone battery as an inconvenience that is easier to throw out than recycle, but an 800 lb battery that is worth 400-1000$ wont just go in the garbage. IN fact the ICE analogy would be a consumer doing a home recycling of the aluminum in an engine block. Very few people do this, but you can bet the junk yard isn’t… Read more »

Look on ebay for used Leaf battery cells. (mostly taken from wrecked Leafs) And, not cheap.
Last time I checked, each was 48 volt which make them ideal for hobbiests. How about a 150 mile e-bike?

I have had a 200 mile e-cargo bike for over two years now, using 7 repurposed Leaf modules. Average ride length, over that time, is 66 miles. I am at 19,514 miles as of yesterday. Over an order of magnitude more efficient than our Bolt, and the most fun you can have with your pants on. 🙂

Yan Wang told me,

“Yan Wang, a professor at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts and founder of Battery Resourcers, one of nine recycling firms listed on EPRI’s website.

“Currently most lithium-ion batteries are landfilled,” according to Battery Resourcers. “If they are recycled, only the metal value from the batteries is recovered.””

/Be sure and click thumbs down instead of clicking on the referenced article. The LAST thing we want to do around here is consider both sides of an issue.

If true, it’s a much bigger problem as a whole that needs to be addressed far beyond EV’s since virtually every rechargeable device has lithium ion batteries. I wouldn’t make EV’s the culprit as much as every device from cell phones to power tools to toys. Those probably end up in land fills due to consumer negligence in throwing them in the trash.

According to Battery U, … in 2013 2.55 billion 18650 cells were produced .
/That would be enough for about 360,000 Teslas.

//The old cells went in the trash because it’s the economical solution. Nobody wants to buy your dead lithium batteries.

And that’s just 18650 cells, which most portable electronic devices don’t use.

Don’t even have to read the article because it’s FORBES. Every article I’ve ever read by them is negative towards clean tech and tries to slow down the renewable energy transition with their own brand of FUD.

… so you get your unbiased info from someone who’s “teamed up with Formula E” … makes sense

It’s electric waste that’s the culprit here not ev car batteries. We all know the car batteries are prime commodity at this time by the price sellers charge for used batteries online. More spinning from you ….lol….what a surprise.

They way I interpret that is, he is talking about batteries from small devices & laptops. Cars don’t get stuffed into landfills. You also cut off the rest of his quote where he said they are working on recycling the other parts of the batteries.

The guy is full of bs…everything he posts is garbage. Do you really think he doesn’t know the e-waste is responsible not car batteries?

“”Marc Grynberg, the chief executive of Belgian battery and recycling giant Umicore, spoke with the Guardian. He said, “Car producers will be accountable for the collection and recycling of spent lithium-ion batteries. Given their sheer size, batteries cannot be stored at home and landfilling is not an option.”
The European Union has regulations in place to deal with the coming influx of EV lithium-ion batteries. In a nut shell, the regulations require all battery manufacturers to finance the costs of collecting, treating and recycling all collected batteries….”

If by landfill ypu mean Ebay then yes, you are right. That web is not what it used to be.

If (and that’s a big if) it was actually true that it costs more energy and money to recycle old batteries than mine new materials, than there would be no reason to recycle…

Taxes/subsidies come into play to lessen the environmental impact.

“Knowing that billions of Li-ion batteries are discarded every year and given the high cost of lithium cobalt oxide, salvaging precious metals should make economic sense and one wonders why so few companies recycle these batteries.

The reason becomes clear when examining the complexity and low yield of recycling. The retrieved raw material barely pays for labor, which includes collection, transport, sorting into batteries chemistries, shredding, separation of metallic and non-metallic materials, neutralizing hazardous substances, smelting, and purification of the recovered metals.”

My point is that if recycling (including logistics etc.) is really such an expensive process, it means that most likely it does *not* lessen the environmental impact.

(It would be different if the materials involved had a large environmental impact that is not adequately reflected in prices; which is the case for many products — but most likely not for Li-Ion batteries, considering that by far their largest environmental impact comes from energy use…)

Also note that I’m only pointing out what it would mean if EV batteries in fact ended up in landfills regularly — I’m pretty certain that’s not actually the case. (And the source you cited is irrelevant, since it doesn’t talk about EV batteries — nor is it a terribly reliable source in general…)


And of course, that gas magically appears in the cars tank and doesn’t generate one drop of CO2 to produce it…. that’s always missing.

Was disappointed that the production and transport of fuel was not included in the calculation. If you live in Wyoming your gas is tanked across the state, and electricity has losses through the wires. Would also have been nice if he’d used the average battery production emissions as he did with the vehicle production, just to keep it all consistent.

It is included in the UCS and Nature links in the comments above. If the video misses that out it’s another negative towards it. Top Tip, youtube is not the place to get detailed information on a subject!

Top tip to you once again …. studies of
(1) “reputable” institutes paid from vested interest like Big Oil;
(2) the Koch Industry network (Kochtopus) of “think tanks” ;
(2) financial publications like Forbes, WSJ … depending on advertising revenue of large corporations —
are often even worse than youtube channels.

So its not the media of communication what is decisive, but the ‘Cui bono’ and follow the money trail of an article

The quicker we stop posting articles about the issue, the quicker people will forget it. People are always going to be neigh sayers, as soon as there is no one that listens to them, then no one else cares.

Your suggestion is somewhat simplistic since they will continue to misinform even without challenges. Articles are posted for the flip side to be aired to counter and inform those on the fence looking for facts from owners of products being challenged.
There will always be those who are too lazy to search the flip side of a subject and these are the very ones who will benefit when fake stories are challenged with alternative info.

They need to account for emissions created making engines and transmissions.

He did. He took the best case scenario for gasser by saying electric motor is equivalent to engine/transmission. Even after giving all the best for gasser, EV still came out ahead.

Another Euro point of view
Of course Evs are better for environment than comparable gas cars now should we convert all our ICE cars in 4000 lbs EVs we would still only but brush the surface of our environmental problems. I mean our consumerism is becoming completely out of control and the quality of many of the items we buy is not improving on the contrary so almost each house has piles of old electronics often in perfect functioning order except for the crappy li-ion battery which died after 12 months and for which after market replacement are batteries that come from China so hopeless as if filled with sand. Same with quality of clothing, cotton quality seems to become worse and worse so every family has piles of relatively new but unwearable clothes due to poor quality. Finally something that struck me is that packaging is also becoming completely out of control, I cannot buy a pack of cookies without having each individual cookie in its own plastic bag. If the all drive heavy EVs full of difficult to recycle materials it is indeed an improvement on ICE cars but if we leave mountains of waste behind us because of consumerism of poor quality… Read more »

I’m thinking that if we all transition to using only bicycles made entirely of bamboo that may help 🙂

Well Euro, would could cut to the chase. Encourage smaller families: Two children or less. I know it’s a sensitive subject, but if we’re going to talk about consumerism and environmental protection as a whole, it needs to be discussed.

Well, the US doesn’t have that problem – as of a few years ago, the birthrate is down to 1.76 per woman, from 2.1 the decade before. There is no clear indication that the ratio will go up. Everything points to that trend continuing downwards.

I was surprised to know keeping your beater is often not the right thing to do from a carbon/energy intensity perspective, as has become conventional wisdom.

I remember arguing with someone with a gas guzzling Mustang and of course he was perpetuating the same myths. I pointed out “What do you care what I drive even if what you are saying is true? Are you an environmentalist or something? You don’t care about the environment. It’s not as if you drive a fuel sipping Ford Focus or anything like that.” Of course he didn’t have any independent thoughts to counter that one.

His answer? “I believe in being stewards of the earth.” Whatever the F that means. As if it’s his God given right to ravage the Earth of oil and burn it, as long as it doesn’t involve lithium extraction.

Basically there are people who you just can’t reason with even if you had all the best science in the world and an overwhelming consensus of fact to back it up.

Yeah, it’s really funny arguing with pig headed gas guys. Even when they’re spewing black smoke out of the pipes, they claim to be environmental saints against EV. And after all the ranting about the evils of middle east terrorism, they turn to ardent supporters of oil that is fueling all the mayhem.

By the same token, I’m also uncomfortable with righteous indignation. Shaming people to change behavior based on what sounds like recreational activity may not be the most effective course of action when trying to influence opinion. That only creates animosity and defensiveness in the individuals you’re trying to sway. Perhaps the guy is just an automotive enthusiast who likes sports cars. Perhaps he grew up admiring the design, power and thrill they can bring. Unless the guy is a complete consumption nut, one might consider the context of the argument at hand. Overall industrial activity represents a much greater issue in terms of magnitude than some guy driving a Mustang. Shipping, air travel, energy production and even family size are areas where we can make greater strides to reduce our carbon footprint. Individual actions can add up, but we can effect change on a wider scale if we look at policy decisions that directly address the nature of our consumption model. Trust me, I’m no fan of burning fossil fuels. I chaff at those people who completely ignore the real threat represented by climate change. But I also don’t think it’s fair to castigate someone as “destroyer of the environment”… Read more »

You might find among some “conservatives” that the term “stewards of the earth” actually means using all of the resources as being a morally responsible thing to do because what is cheapest is best to provide for more people. Unfortunately, the politicians that these same people elect into public office don’t give a damn about anyone – the same politicians that say that the poor deserve their fate, and try to take away Medicaid.

Hehe, talk about “Damning with Faint Praise” – in other words he’s saying that after several years BEV’s break even with Gasoline powered cars.

I would think that Diesels are far more harmful in general than Gasoline powered cars, – of course people here love Diesels because of their “LOW CARBON OUTPUT”.

I’m not going to say anything else, although this article made me laugh; because the reaction is much worse than talking about politics, of which I’ve reached my quota for this week.

Diesel is a huge source of PM, particularly the smaller PM, so yeah, beyond CO2, I would think that diesel is not good.

His estimates for EVs with small 30 kWh batteries was excellent, with only 1.67 years of driving to make up the manufacturing difference in CO2 emissions.
But for EVs with a 100 kWh battery, the amount of time for making up manufacturing difference was good, but not nearly as impressive at 5.53 years.

The assumption for average miles driven per year is 11,824 miles (based on US data); and there are other assumptions, of course.

If one is a pensioner/retiree and has a big EV with a 100 kWh battery, drives only about 4,000 miles per year, and charges the EV from the grid; they probably would have done a greater good buy just buying a small or mid-sized ICE car with decent fuel efficiency.
But for other situations the EV is better.

Maybe, though ICE cars deteriorate. My 2010 hybrid from Ford (Mercury brand) got 39mpg my first year of driving. Now, 8 years later and after 100k miles, I’m only getting 31mpg. I’m taking good care of it, as well – prescribed oil changes, etc.

In these studies I always find missing two factors:
1) catalic converters that ICE cars need to get those nice low emissions.
2) ICE maintenance, after a couple of years an ICE car will get higher emission than those on the EPA sticker…

2) Green ratings, such as PZEV, require a duration minimum of 10 years and 150,000 miles.

As an EV owner, I’ve found that people will not change their minds about this. I stopped spreading the truth about which is more eco-friendly. I’ve found a much better argument in favor of EVs that actually has compelled people to want them. The argument is that EVs are way more powerful and way more fun to drive. With every single EV made today that also has an ICE version (Fiat500, Chevy spark, smart fortwo, Hyundai ionix, Kia Nero, VW egolf, Kia Soul etc) the electric version has much better performance and much faster acceleration. Every single one, the EV is a faster car, add in the heavy battery pack which is usually installed very low to the ground and the handling becomes much better too. Auto enthusiasts don’t care about the environment, they care about performance. EV owners have been making the wrong argument this entire time.

“Fun to Drive” is a very difficult sell for mainstream consumers, especially if there’s a premium involved. They have different priorities, like size & horsepower, as opposed to impressive handling.

It’s a diminishing return problem anyway. The suspension & body-stiffness upgrades to Prius, combined with the added torque from the larger battery, make Prime more compelling. But how much would even more actually draw if the audience is primarily SUV shoppers?

Think about who you are trying to convince. Ordinary consumers… like my mother… couldn’t care less.