The Macho Springs wind and solar farm near Nutt, New Mexico. Photo by Jennifer Sensiba.

Yet Another Study Shows EVs Are Cleaner Than ICE & Continue Getting Cleaner

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A recent post by Canary Media shows us that EVs are (once again) proving to be cleaner than comparable ICE vehicles. Plus, while ICE vehicles are stuck burning the same fuel for the rest of their serviceable lives, EVs continue to get cleaner as electric grids improve.

The graph (based on Bloomberg data) compares BEV and ICE emissions over a lifetime for several different countries: China, Germany, Japan, the UK, and the United States. The results differ for various reasons, with the US ICE emissions a lot higher than everyone else, likely because of vehicle size and speeds frequently traveled. There’s really nowhere else on the planet where someone would drive an F-350 85 MPH and not be breaking any laws (unless Germans are buying F-350s, and I’m not aware of that).

Another interesting thing is that Chinese BEVs have the highest lifetime footprint. While it’s true that Chinese industry is ahead of everybody on the production of battery cells and therefore affordable EVs, the idea that China is ahead on clean technology overall is just plain wrong. The use of coal power plants is still growing in China, and many environmental protections the rest of the vehicle’s manufacturing and mining would be subject to elsewhere is weak to non-existent. So, the country’s EVs are both dirtier to run and dirtier to build.

But, there’s still some silver lining to that cloud. For one, despite having the dirtiest EVs, they’re still cleaner than the cleanest ICE vehicles in the study (the UK). So, EVs win, even when they’re powered by the worst electricity production! It’s also true that the sheer number of cars in China and the sheer number of EVs put on the road makes a big global impact, even if the impact could be more. Or, as Stalin supposedly said, “Quantity has a quality all its own.”

It’s also important to note that the dirtiest EVs (China, Japan, and the US) will only get cleaner, despite already being cleaner than their local ICE competition. As these three countries (and the others) build more solar power plants, install more wind, add more energy storage, and do other things to remove coal and then gas from the mix, the EVs in all of these countries will get cleaner while the ICE vehicles will only improve a little (assuming they do at all).

The ICE vehicles will improve some, because there’s still some engine research and development happening. Things like better electronic controls, variable compression, HCCI, cleaner fuels, and hybrids will continue to make for some improvements. But, the problem of thermal efficiency (most of the energy is lost as waste heat) doesn’t go away. So, there’s simply not enough room for improvement compared to the improvement that’s already happening on the power grids.

The improvement in power grids not only improves the operating cleanliness of EVs, but it also improves the environmental costs of manufacturing (factories use a lot of electricity) and even mining. So, all aspects of the manufacturing process will improve on this graph, with the notable exception of ICE running efficiency.

At this point, there really is no defending the lie that ICE vehicles are cleaner than BEVs. The data simply doesn’t support that conclusion.

Featured image by Jennifer Sensiba.


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Jennifer Sensiba

Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to get off the beaten path in her "Bolt EAV" and any other EVs she can get behind the wheel or handlebars of with her wife and kids. You can find her on Twitter here, Facebook here, and YouTube here.

Jennifer Sensiba has 1949 posts and counting. See all posts by Jennifer Sensiba