The nascent excitement around electric vehicles is rooted in the ecological interest they may have. With them the exhaust belongs to the past! But are they really less polluting than vehicles with « normal » combustion engines?
The answer seems obvious to us but it may be different if we look into details at the complete life cycle of electric cars ie their manufacture, their period of use and destruction.
Let us take for example the emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs): according to a study published by ADEME (the French Energy Agency) in 2012, the production cycle of a combustion engine vehicle emits 3.7 tonnes of GHGs while the same cycle of an electric car emits 6.6 tonnes including 3.2 tonnes for the only manufacture of batteries.
The manufacture of an electric vehicle is without a doubt much dirtier (emitting GHG) than that of a combustion engine vehicle.
During the period of use, emissions are related, in the case of electric vehicles, to the production of electricity consumed by the car and depend on the country’s energy mix ; in the case of a combustion engine vehicle, the same emissions are due to the manufacturing process and to the combustion of the fuel.
According to the same study, 27 000 kms are necessary in France to compensate the additional GHG emissions in the manufacture of an electric vehicle, 87000 kms in Germany.
If the balance is today slightly in favour of electric vehicles, it remains a heavy work to be done to improve the situation with two priorities: to decarbonise energy and to make the battery manufacturing “cleaner”.