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Do electric vehicles reduce the carbon footprint?

Model 3 Sunset

Photo by Vlad Tchompalov on Unsplash


Electric vehicles have been a topic of debate for decades. Some people believe electric vehicles are the future, while others think electric vehicles are not "Zero-Emission" vehicles. After all, the production processes of such vehicles, the recycling of batteries, and electricity generation directly impact the environment. This article investigates whether electric vehicles do lower our carbon footprint or not.


Electric vehicles are becoming increasingly popular among motorists, and, as a result, automakers are increasing their electric vehicle production capacity. Government agencies promoting electric vehicles highlight such initiatives in their environmental strategies as a critical factor in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Norway, for instance, is pushing an ambitious goal of cutting all fossil-fuel vehicle sales by 2025. And China has a goal of ending production and sales of gasoline-powered cars by 2030. The Canadian government has set a goal of banning the sale of fossil fuel vehicles in its territory by 2035 1. The U.K. government plans to introduce such a ban by 2030 2. The French government, in turn, plans to impose similar restrictions on the sale of new cars with internal combustion engines by 2040.

For their part, automakers also make loud statements about limiting the production of cars with internal combustion engines. General Motors said it would only produce zero-emission vehicles by 2035. Volvo aims to produce only hybrid or electric-powered vehicles by 2030 3.

In June 2020, Bloomberg Business published a forecast for the global electric vehicles market. Based on the current trend of the electric vehicles market, the market is projected to grow to $803 billion by 2027. By comparison, the electric vehicles market was just over $162 billion in 2019.

Let's also look at the trend of electric vehicle charging stations. According to the Alternative Fuels Data Center, as of June 2021, there are 43,036 public charging stations in the United States. According to the Global E.V. Outlook 2020 4, China ranks first in vehicles in operation with electric or hybrid engines. In second place in the U.S. and third place in Norway (Fig.1).

Number of electric vehicles in thousands

Figure 1. BEV (a battery electric vehicle) and PHEV (a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle) for each Country. Color shows details about BEV and PHEV.
Source: Global E.V. Outlook 2020. doi: 10.5281/zenodo.5080545

Experts say those pledges contain hidden tradeoffs. They would force consumers to buy expensive battery-powered cars that make sense in some places but not others. In particular, climate advocates worry about China's pledge because it's the largest car market in the world. They suggest that producing electric vehicles in mass quantities can lead to high greenhouse gas emissions.

Researchers have been debating the pros and cons of electric cars for decades. They are divided on whether or not electric vehicles help reduce carbon footprints or require excessive use of energy and resources.

It is often difficult for the consumer to understand the many hidden nuances present in the production of electric vehicles. And often, the main criteria in choosing a car are its cost and technological basis.


The researchers from the Institute for Data, Systems, and Society of Massachusetts Institute of Technology created an interactive tool Carboncounter that allows users to compare the most popular car models on many indicators affecting greenhouse gas emissions generated during the life cycle of electrical vehicles.

This online tool also provides Barchart for Costs (vehicle, fuel, and maintenance) and Greenhouse gas emissions (lifecycle) among Scatterplot features. Greenhouse gas emissions account for the entire lifecycle, including vehicle and battery production. Using this tool, we will try to draw your conclusions about whether the automaker's advertising claims about electric vehicles being "green" are true.

To shed some light on the environmental performance of electric vehicles, using the above online tools and data based on reference 5, we compared two vehicles with the similar horsepower, the Tesla 3 (283 HP), and Infiniti Q50 (300 HP).

The monthly operating costs of each compared vehicle were (Fig.2):

  • for the model, Tesla 3 electric vehicle was US$426.10/month, including purchase and depreciation US$333/month, fuel (electricity) US$27.8/month, maintenance US$65.3/month.

  • for the model, Infiniti Q50, the internal combustion engine car was US$583.7/month, including purchase and depreciation US$321/month, fuel US$166/month, maintenance US$96.7/month.

Costs (vehicle, fuel, and maintenance)

Figure 2. Costs (vehicle, fuel, and maintenance).
Source: Carboncounter by the MIT Trancik Lab. doi: 10.5281/zenodo.508155

We looked at the CO2CO_2 emissions for these vehicles and found out the following things (Fig.3):

  • for the model Tesla 3, CO2CO_2 emissions were 161.8 gCO2gCO_2 eq/mile, including 31.8 gCO2gCO_2 eq/mile in vehicle production, 25 gCO2gCO_2 eq/mile in battery production, and 105 gCO2gCO_2 eq/mile in electricity production.

  • for the model Infiniti Q50, CO2CO_2 emissions were 503.8 gCO2gCO_2 eq/mile , including vehicle production 40.5 gCO2gCO_2 eq/mile, fuel production 91.3 gCO2gCO_2 eq/mile, in-service combustion 372 gCO2gCO_2 eq/mile.

Greenhouse gas emissions (lifecycle)

Figure 3. Greenhouse gas emissions (lifecycle).
Source: Carboncounter by the MIT Trancik Lab. doi: 10.5281/zenodo.5081566

As the results of the comparison showed, a vehicle that uses gasoline has 3.1x more CO2CO_2 emissions than an electric vehicle. Electric vehicle Tesla 3 also costs (purchase and depreciation) about the same amount as other vehicles that used gasoline. But during in the lifecycle of operation the estimated total expenses of an electric vehicle is 37% lower than the analogous expenses of a vehicle with a gasoline engine and with the similar horsepower.

In the above comparison, we have seen that CO2CO_2 emissions from electricity generation are higher than from fuel generation. However, this figure will undoubtedly decrease with the development of technologies for generating electricity from renewable sources. As battery technology develops and becomes cheaper for making electric vehicles, this will also help make electric vehicles more affordable.


Even though the study showed that electric vehicles are not Zero-Emission, we have every reason to believe still that electric vehicles will be all over highways. We can not fear that with the increase in the number of electric vehicles will be increased CO2CO_2 emissions from the manufacturing process of such cars and electricity needed to power them.

Infographic: Electric Vehicle Market To Hit Ludicrous Mode | Statista

You will find more infographics at Statista


  1. REUTERS, June 29, 2021 Retrieved on 2021-07-05 {...}
  2. Intelligent Transport, November 19, 2020 Retrieved on 2021-07-05 {...}
  3. The New York Times, January 28, 2021 Retrieved on 2021-07-04 {...}
  4. The Global EV Outlook 2020. International Energy Agency. Retrieved on 2021-07-04 {...}
  5. Marco Miotti, Geoffrey J. Supran, Ella J. Kim, and Jessika E. Trancik Environmental Science & Technology 2016 50 (20), 10795-10804 DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.6b00177 {...}

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