Sometimes we tend to believe that everything that is published, or the information that reaches us through the general media, is perfectly contrasted and assumes absolute truth.

Such is the case with some statements about certain benefits of some energies over others. The truth is that only knowledge such as that which you can acquire in a master’s degree in renewable energies can lead you to correct conclusions about these subjects.

This is what happens now with the discussion of whether electric cars are less polluting than diesel ones or not. At first sight, electric energy should be much cleaner than that produced by oil-based fuels, but there have been voices, including scientific ones, that consider that this is not entirely true.

These authoritative voices highlight some of the dark spots of electric cars such as the problem of recycling batteries and the electricity generation systems themselves.

The truth about the electric car and the diesel car

We were beginning to get used to the idea that the diesel car had its days numbered and we saw the diesel tax as a good deterrent to buying these vehicles and thus improving the environment.

However, against all odds, many authorities in this field have begun to say that this is not entirely true and to explain that in the discussion on electric cars and diesel cars, the latter are currently the winners.

Apparently, if we look at emissions only, it is clear that the electric car produces zero emissions compared to the emission figure of a diesel vehicle. However, emissions are only a small part of the elements that make up the polluting effect in the life cycle of each product.

The fact is that, for many, the level of development and reduction of emissions achieved by the most modern diesel engines and the low consumption have led to very low pollution.

This high reduction means that other aspects involved in the life cycle of the electric vehicle, which seem not to be taken into account, attribute to the latter a higher level of the damage they cause to the environment with current technology.

The important product life cycle

Pollution is not just a matter of fuel consumption or daily emissions during vehicle use. From the moment it starts to be produced until its obsolescence and final removal, a whole series of milestones are produced that mark a chain of pollution and leave a footprint that is quite far from the goal of zero footprint in some cases.

According to the study Electric vehicles from life cycle and circular economy perspectives published by the European Environment Agency, the production of electric vehicles has a polluting impact between 1.3 and 2 times higher than that of a conventional vehicle.

This is due to the means necessary to obtain the raw materials required by the batteries, the polluting effect of some of their components and the same energy used in their manufacturing process.

On the other hand, we are also faced with the problems of recycling the waste it leaves, both in the fungible elements and in the very end of the vehicle’s useful life, which are also considerably higher and more complex to treat than in a combustion vehicle.

In spite of all this, according to the report, everything is more than offset by the fact that emissions are zero in use, making the overall polluting effect between 17% and 21% lower than that of a modern diesel vehicle.

This is not entirely true either, however. While the vehicle does not produce emissions, electricity production systems that have not yet managed to approach the required level of clean production do.

Thus, when we produce electrical energy through a thermal power plant, we are polluting and producing emissions that must be attributed, in the applicable percentage, to the responsibility for the use of electric vehicles.

Which one then pollutes more

Taking all these aspects into account, the Buchal report, by the German authors Hans-Dieter Karl and Hans-Werner Sinn, goes into full detail to calculate exactly what the level of emissions attributable, for example, to a Tesla vehicle is.

Its conclusion is devastating and, in unquestionable calculations, it determines that the battery of a Tesla model 3 vehicle produces between 11 and 15 tonnes of CO2 over a normal production and 10-year life cycle.

This means that in 15,000 km per year, if we add the emissions attributable to the production of electrical energy, this Tesla model would be reaching a level of emissions of between 156 and 181 grams of CO2 per kilometer. This is considerably higher than a comparable Mercedes model in its diesel range.

What conclusions can we draw from all this

Does this mean that everything is a kind of smoke screen that obeys some kind of interest?

No, not at all. It is clear that, although we cannot say that the polluting effect of an electric vehicle is currently less than that of a diesel vehicle, or even, in view of the above, should be considered to be greater, there is no doubt that this type of vehicle is the only one that has a chance of achieving, in a short space of time, a zero footprint over its entire life cycle.

To this end, it is essential to convert our energy production systems to clean production systems, that is to say, to have a zero emission level in the generation of energy itself and to perfect the systems for storing electrical energy, its materials and its production processes.

There is still a long way to go, but the race is on to achieve the important goals that have been set internationally for the reduction of emissions and for the determined commitment of all countries to a transformation.

Be a part of this race by preparing yourself for an exciting profession. Sign up for our master’s degree in renewable energies.