Infographic: Are Electric Cars Really Green?


The team at the provided an infographic entitled “Are Electric Cars Really Green?“.

Well, we are not experts on the environment, but as electric cars enthusiasts we would like to answer yes, however everything strongly depends on the how electricity is produced and what materials/recycling methods will be used for batteries and where the emissions occur.

Sadly, most of the reports are limited to CO2, which is just one of many emission components, and not necessarily the worst (some others could be more dangerous for health in large cities).

Infographic: Are Electric Cars Really Green?

Infographic: Are Electric Cars Really Green?

Category: General

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41 responses to "Infographic: Are Electric Cars Really Green?"
  1. GeorgeS says:

    Ahh another well to wheels discussion only w/ manufacturing figured in too.

    Did they include the CO2 emitted from making the tires?

    Did they include the CO2 emitted from making the asphalt for the roads your driving on?

    It borders on absurd. It makes the whole existence of homo-sapiens questionable from a sustainability point of view (which of course it is).

    The only thing one can conclude from a study like this is that getting our act cleaned up is impossible.

    1. Assaf says:

      Nay, cradle-to-grave and well-to-wheels analyses are valid.

      However, the dear folks at Donate A Car . Com (is that the latest and greatest environmental organization? I doubt it, I’d say even on the purely business side they seem dodgy) –

      – anyway, these dear folks have done a hatchet job of it. Out of every range of estimates, they took the worst possible numbers for EV (e.g., 30k pounds for manufacturing), and presented it as a scientific consensus of sorts. It ain’t.

      Then they throw in some irrelevant scary visuals, such as how much coal have power plants across all the U.S. consumed last year. If you really want a national estimate, count how many EVs were in each state, multiply by their average KWh consumption and then take into account their local grid – it so happens that most American EVs are in states hardly using any coal.

      But that was not the intent. The intent was to put EVs in a bad light. Perhaps because less of them get scrapped and donated, hurting these guys’ business?

      Or maybe they’re just plain idiots. I really couldn’t care less.

      1. Assaf says:

        Oh, and notice that the bit about battery production being so terrible for you has no citation, source or reference. They are just making it up.

        In fact, last time I looked an extensive Federal government study (can’t recall right now whether it was EPA or Argonne NL) looked into it and found nothing pernicious at any stage from lithium mining to final production.

        1. Also notice the diesel magically appears at the gas station. No need for mining, pumping, transporting, refining and again transporting.

    2. Miggy says:

      What a lot of BS. note they did not include Norway and New Zealand in the list, too green. this report is so old it is not even in metric.

      1. Mikael says:

        New Zealand is definitely not “too green”. They still have quite a lot of fossil fuel to get rid off.

        Norway on the other hand doesn’t need to be in the infographic since they have Paraguay and Iceland there representing 0 g co2/kwh so they don’t need a third country to make their point.

        1. Mint says:

          NZ is 5% coal, 20% natural gas, and 75% renewable. It’s very green.

          Anyway, I agree that this story is bunk, especially the line about having more emissions than diesel.

  2. Alonso Perez says:

    The infographic is notably void of underlying assumptions. You need to dig through the references, and that takes time.

    Typically with these things, ICE CO2 footprint is not calculated well to wheel, but direct. Gas has its own substantial CO2 footprint in production, transport, and delivery.

    The 50,000 mile lifetime of the vehicle is also arbitrarily short. Most cars are used for far more than 50,000 miles, and ICE efficiency drops over time while EV efficiency remains fixed (range degrades instead). A typical car in the US today will be driven over 150,000 miles.

    To the extent that EVs are charged at night, their CO2 footprint is essentially zero even with coal because coal plants cannot be shut down every night (they take too long to ramp up and down), so they burn coal all night regardless of load. If you want a zero CO2 EV, and you live in coal country, simply charge at night and make use of electricity that is otherwise wasted.

    You don’t even need solar panels. This would stop being true once EVs number in the multiple millions, but we are far from that and renewables will be a larger part of the grid by that point.

    To all this, add local pollution. If you live in a city an EV is making a valuable contribution to clean air. Even if you don’t believe in climate change, that reason alone should be compelling at nearly all major metro areas, not to mention the ones with difficult pollution issues, such as Los Angeles.

    1. Nicklas says:

      Great point with the nightly charge… The energy is otherwise wasted… Brilliant… Didn’t think of that one before…

      Also a good point regarding local smog problems…

      Great post Alonzo!

    2. Djoni says:

      And add that finding, extracting pumping,refining, and distributing fossil fuel also use à lot of unclean energy.
      Estimate for refining only is about 4 to 7 kWh of electricity for à gallon of fuel.
      So this is a very biased and faulty report.
      Invalidity must be applied to this paper except the fact that the energy production has to be a lot cleaner than what it is now.

  3. Don’t get too hung up on “Green Talk” … there are so many shades of green, from dark greens to lime greens, to slime green.

    The focus of green talk is really ‘energy production’ … each type of energy source does emit something, enen the sun puts out some harmful rays (fortunately we live on a planet with an ozone cover).

    Electric vehicles are the “cleanest” vehicles in motion. No emissions of gases, or partical matter… no oil drips while operating on roads, or in cities. Sure the energy electric vehicles use may have small impact, but the location is fixed and can be easily managed, vs. spread over a large network of roads. BEVs add nothing to the immediate environment they travel through.

  4. Dan says:

    It’s a flawed but neat infographic. One major flaw is they assume EV’s use power in proportion to the grid sources (ie. if the grid is 40% coal, they assume EV’s are 40% coal powered). In reality most EV charging occurs at night when the mix is different due to low demand. Coal power is the main source that is throttled to meet peak demand, so the % from coal is much lower when charging at night.

    I could go on (ie. 50k miles is nuts, no consideration of how material use efficiency is improving), but I do agree with the main conclusion that we ought to be concurrently cleaning up the grid. With a clean grid and more efficient materials use, electric cars have the potential to be radically more environmentally friendly. Gas cars have virtually no potential to improve.

    1. Hubert says:

      “Coal power is the main source that is throttled to meet peak demand, so the % from coal is much lower when charging at night.”

      Coal and nukes are base loaded. NG is used for peakers.

  5. Ryan says:

    Why do these fools always insist on measuring the footprint of an EV from the source of the electricity but measure the footprint of a gasoline vehicle as if the fuel just magically appears at the gas station… they always neglect the footprint and environmental impact of gasoline from the eco-disasterous process of removing the oil from the ground, refining process to produce the gasoline, and absurd CO2 emissions of tanker ships/trains/trucks delivering it around the world

    1. Blueberry Blipblop says:

      “Why do these fools always insist on measuring the footprint of an EV from the source of the electricity but measure the footprint of a gasoline vehicle as if the fuel just magically appears at the gas station”

      +1 😀

      1. James B. says:

        No it’s worse than that…

        Oil pumped from ground, pumped to oil tanker, drive (almost literally) half way around the world, pumped to refinery, refined, driven in a truck to city, where… you drive to the station to get it. Now it can be compared to the electricity example. I also get my electricity at home and work, where I’m not going out of my way to get it or leaking electrons into the air as I get it. 😀

  6. Jack says:

    Right on the money Ryan. These so called scientists certainly know it’s not apples with apples. This info graphic is disappointingly misleading.

  7. Warren says:

    The whole discussion of EV vs ICE is pretty much a distraction. EV drivetrains have been shown to be more energy and CO2 efficient than ICE drivetrains for short range, and PHEV drivetrains for longer range. The real problem is the efficiency of the cars. Aerodynamics, weight, and rolling resistance, in order of importance, are the issues that matter. Manufacturers understand this, and some branches of government push for improvements. But makers get loopholes inserted in the laws, and buyers go for cheap and big, over costly, and efficient every time.

    1. Warren says:

      The EPA has a good calculator for CO2 tailpipe, and upstream for fuel/electricity.

      Tesla S85 210 gr/mi
      BMW i3 Rex 180 gr/mi
      BMW i3 EV 160 gr/mi
      Prius C 218 gr/mi

      From several other sources, with manufacturing CO2 added in, the Prius C beats all but the current crop of 80ish mile EV’s.

      1. Jack says:

        Could you provide a link?

        1. Warren says:

          Sure. You can find info for any car, and for EVs, you can plug in your zip code to see the effect of the power generation mix in your area.

      2. JakeY says:

        Keep in mind the manufacturing footprint of a Prius C is higher than your average ICE vehicle because of the Nimh battery pack. I still remember the old (debunked) argument about a Hummer being better than a Prius once manufacturing is accounted for.

        1. Warren says:

          Hummer…not a chance. The Prius C is as low as ICE gets for lifetime CO2. The Smart Fortwo ICE is close, because of the tiny manufacturing footprint, and only OK mileage.

    2. James B. says:

      I agree:

      Generating electricity >> drilling and ‘generating’ gasoline
      Spinning wheels with electricity >> spinning wheels with gasoline and oil lubrication

  8. ffbj says:

    Corporate funded garbage.
    List of electricity spills. Well I did but I did not find any.

    1. James B. says:

      Fool! It happens all the time:


      sorry, I had to…

  9. ffbj says:

    As to saying that emissions are similar try this simple test.

    1.Take your ice start it up and close your garage door and remain in the garage.
    Wait 30 mintues. (Do not do this!)

    2.Do the same with an e.v.
    (For best results, try doing this with the ev first).
    3. Report results.

  10. Whatever says:

    I find this infographic quite suspekt. How come batteries lead to global warming and resource depletion but apparently not gasoline. Ecological toxicity? Yeah sure, like drilling for oil and extracting oil from tar sands don’t create ecological problems! “Human health impacts?” Ever heard about smog?

    This infographic is clearly strongly biased.

  11. QCO says:

    If you really want to be green, the best solution is to walk. Even then a factory had to pollute when making your shoes.

    It’s always a matter of degree….

    1. Dave R says:

      Well, if you want to be pedantic, riding a bike is much more efficient than walking. 🙂

  12. JRMW says:

    Yet one more convenient omission

    It takes 6 kWh to refine 1 gallon of gasoline.

    That electricity also comes from coal

    A Nissan Leaf can drive about 33 miles on 6 kWh. With no other carbon emission

    The average smaller car goes about 33 miles on that gallon of gas that used 6 kWh… While burning a gallon of gas with resultant added emissions

  13. Kandi1 says:

    I remember so many movie scenes where a guy who want to commit suicide just sits in his car in his garage with a garden hose plugged to his tailpipe and the other end going through its almost closed window.

    Isn’t it very clear that ICE cars kill? Imagine now millions of those cars driving daily in your city. Everyday. Affecting the weakest first: our kids lungs.
    This is not about whether you believe in climate change. This is about being a minimum observant of the world surrounding you.

  14. SIvad says:

    “However leading scientist have questioned the hidden environmental costs…” What leading scientists? What are their names and credentials and with who are they affiliated? I sure hope it’s not the “scientist” at Transport Watch UK.

    “According to Transport Watch UK, these factors mean electric cars produce 22-63% more pollution than an improved diesel”

    Hmm, who is this Transport Watch UK and where does this statistic come from? “Paul Withrington, who runs a one-man organisation called Transport Watch UK from what looks like his home address in Northampton. A look at his website material shows he is a retired transport planner and civil engineer, who also has a sideline drawing up wills for people. His source of funding is identified merely as a ‘private trust’, whatever that entails. But the links page saves the best till last: a mysterious connection to the website of Chris Hodge Trucks, a second hand lorry salesman and apparently “the UK ‘s largest dealer of used trucks, lorries, vans, trailers and prime movers”.

    This one man research group also apparently hates trains. He has been campaigning against rail in the UK for years. Coincidentally he does seem to like diesel trucks though.

    “Almost half of the lifetime CO2 emmisions of an electric car come from the energy used in production”

    First what are they calling “lifetime”? How many miles are they assuming? And are they considering the many recycling programs that some of the automakers already have planned or the re-purposing of the battery packs later as stationary energy storage? Their statistic is also assuming that all batteries are produced the same. In a couple of years world-wide automotive battery production will double with the Nevada Gigafactory. The production of these batteries will have a huge reduction in carbon output during manufacture due to the giant on-site solar and wind farm that will feed power to the production lines.

    I really hate these kind of half-*ssed “information” papers that do more harm than good. In fact you wonder if many of these mistakes are intentional.

    Anyway why is a car donation charity site in their spare time doing an infographic on how EVs aren’t really that green? This usually isn’t something a charity would waste time and resources on. It’s not like it has any direct relationship with their mission which is for people to donate their cars to various charities.

    On this site I found the credit for the infograpic at the bottom is actually given to Automotive Recovery Services, Inc.

    This group is a nationwide for profit auto recovery and auction company also known as ADESA Impact who are a subsidiary of KAR auction services, Inc.

    Donateacar must be a charity write-off division of KAR auction services, Inc. “Donor calls and internet donations are processed by Habitat for Humanity International’s authorized national agent, ADESA Impact through their National Vehicle Donation Program.” Maybe it’s a convenient way to write-off and dump their stock that doesn’t sell for a profit at auction through their own charity organization. In return the charity, which I found has an operation overhead of 25% of the donations received, can cover the operation costs of dumping those cars for a charity write-off that turn out to not be profitable.

    That doesn’t really explain why they spent their time doing an infographic on evs but I found it interesting nevertheless.

    1. Omar Sultan says:

      I was pretty much wondering the same thing. The only thing I can come up with is that its part of an astroturfing campaign (i.e. fake grassroots)–reality is diffuse dispersion of FUD is very difficult and very expensive to counter. Lest you think I need a tin-foil hat, check out this gem over on GCR on an astroturfing campaign to overturn green legislation by the Western States Petroleum Association –

  15. Lindsay Patten says:

    If you want much better quality analysis, Renault did a detailed life cycle analysis of the electric, gas, and diesel versions of its Fluence sedan:

    The results are summarized by a graph on page 91.

    Green Car Reports has reproduced the graph:

    in their summary of the report:

    Unlike most LCA analyses you see on the net the Renault report contains a lot of detail on methodology.

    1. Mint says:

      Excellent! Thanks for pointing this out.

      It’s as detailed and apples-to-apples as I’ve seen for LCA comparisons.

  16. Talon says:

    What a load of cobblers.

    I’d be truly interested in a similar infographic that actually takes the production and transport of petrol and diesel into account when comparing the total pollution caused.

    Like others have said, this is not a fair comparison.

  17. Patrick says:

    This infographic is flawed. It does not seem to be from ignorance, but rather an attempt to deceive people. As Dan pointed out, EVs are generally charged overnight when demand is low, in some cases with power that would otherwise be dumped to ground. We’ve had cases where dam water had to be spilled because the wind turbines were over generating. The other important point that they don’t mention is that the grid can (and will be) cleaned up overtime. Moving a region’s transportation fleet to PEVs is a slow process, it needs to start now to be ready when the grid mix is improved. And one final overlooked item is that the people that buy EVs are often the same people that buy solar panels and/or green energy from their local utility.

  18. Ash09 says:

    One other thing that usually doesn’t get mentioned in these types of graphs.

    Sure, coal plants are dirty. But it’s easier to install stuff in the plant to cut down its pollution emissions and make it relatively cleaner.

    Try doing that with the millions of gas guzzlers on the road, especially if the car owner has to pay for it.

    This isn’t going to stop me from buying a plug-in vehicle. I already drive a prius, so now I want even more electric driving.

  19. John from AA says:

    My eye-rolling went near-critical when “leading scientists” were invoked without being named. Seriously?

    At least the infographic does footnote it’s sources, albeit not with specificity, and albeit they’re mostly pop-science articles, not real research papers.

    Conclusion: nothing to see here, please move along.

  20. Bill Howland says:

    The trend is going away from this infographic. Although this graphic apparently is greatly in favor of “clean diesel”, (explain that to the coughing and wheezing children), I’ve never heard of anyone wheezing from elevated CO2, since Orchids (a very delicate ‘canary style’ plant), love elevated levels.

    So, regardless of the big experts, many countries seem to be going away from all things really bad, namely Diesel, and Nuclear, the latest being France, which is considering partially banning Diesel, and reconsidering their emphasis on nuclear Power, currently 80% of that country’s production. Although Diesel never threatened a country’s existance. Nuclear has, since Gorbechev stated in 1986, if the USSR has a second Chernobl, its done for.