How much better for the environment are electric vehicles compared to petrol and diesel cars?

Over its lifetime, one ‘simply cannot be more polluting than its petrol or diesel equivalent,’ according to a new in-depth report by Imperial College London.

It claimed that pure electric plug-in models on average emit just one quarter of the carbon dioxide produced by conventional cars with a combustion engine.

And even when you factor in the carbon footprint required to produce their batteries, electric models still emit half as much CO2 as a petrol or diesel-engined car over the course of their life cycle, the university said.

Twice as green as petrol and diesel: A new report says electric cars produce half as much carbon dioxide over their lifespace, even when taking into account battery production

Twice as green as petrol and diesel: A new report says electric cars produce half as much carbon dioxide over their lifespace, even when taking into account battery production

The debate around the green credentials of electric cars is a hot topic right now as Britain gradually moves towards its target of being carbon neutral by 2050.

However, this latest study, conducted in partnership with Drax Electric Insights, claims the electrified vehicles used on Britain’s roads today are already much greener than traditional cars with conventional engines over a life cycle of 150,000 kilometres (93,000 miles).

The report calculates that it takes just two to three years of zero-emission travel for electric cars to compensate for the carbon dioxide output required to produce the batteries that power them.

However, not all electric cars are the same and the carbon payoff depends on the model, with big luxury motors with long ranges, such as a Tesla Model or Jaguar iPace, taking longer.

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Smaller EVs with fewer batteries – and therefore shorter ranges – are the most eco-friendly, while larger models with more battery packs loaded into them to extend the driving distances between charges take longer to offset their CO2 production.

In fact, it says the carbon dioxide emitted during the production of batteries for premium EV models is the equivalent of three around-the-world flights, or the CO2 required to charge the batteries over 15 years (10,000 kilometres per year) of use. 

Nonetheless, they too remain greener over their lifetime that a petrol or diesel equivalent.  

The report said it takes less than 3 years of zero-emission travel for electric cars to offset the carbon dioxide output required to produce the batteries that power them

The report said it takes less than 3 years of zero-emission travel for electric cars to offset the carbon dioxide output required to produce the batteries that power them

Dr Iain Staffell from Imperial College London said an electric vehicle in the UK 'simply cannot be more polluting than its petrol or diesel equivalent'

Dr Iain Staffell from Imperial College London said an electric vehicle in the UK ‘simply cannot be more polluting than its petrol or diesel equivalent’

Fortunately, Britain is said to be leading the way with decarbonation efforts – and that means electric cars are only going to become more eco-friendly than petrol and diesel equivalents.

With wind, solar, biomass and hydro-electricity contributing for 55 per cent of National Grid demand on 30 June 2019, it says the UK is well on the way to hitting the Government’s net-zero carbon target in just over 30 years’ time.

At the increased rate of renewable energy production, the report estimates that EVs will be responsible for a tenth of the CO2 of a petrol car in five years’ time.  

In a statement for the report, Dr Iain Staffell from Imperial College London said: ‘EVs have real potential to reduce our carbon footprint and help meet our net-zero carbon ambitions, despite some speculation about how clean they really are.

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‘An electric vehicle in the UK simply cannot be more polluting than its petrol or diesel equivalent, even when taking into account the upfront ‘carbon cost’ of manufacturing their batteries.’

Premium models with lots of batteries, such as the Jaguar I-Pace - which stores battery packs in the chassis floor (pictured), take longer to pay off the CO2 output required to produce them

Premium models with lots of batteries, such as the Jaguar I-Pace – which stores battery packs in the chassis floor (pictured), take longer to pay off the CO2 output required to produce them

The report said the carbon dioxide emitted during the production of batteries for premium EV models is the equivalent of three around-the-world flights

The report said the carbon dioxide emitted during the production of batteries for premium EV models is the equivalent of three around-the-world flights

He added: ”The carbon content of Britain’s electricity has halved in recent years and keeps on falling, whereas conventional engine vehicles have very limited scope to reduce emissions over their lifetime.

‘Any EV bought today could be emitting just a tenth of what a petrol car would in as little as five years’ time, as the electricity it uses to charge comes from an increasingly low-carbon mix.’ 

There are around 200,000 electric models on Britain’s roads with one in 40 cars sold being plug-in cars – a third pure electric models and two thirds hybrids.  

And this figure is expected to expand ten-fold over the next five to ten years, says  National Grid Future Energy Scenarios report. 

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