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The Long Carbon-Slick of Electric Cars

March 12, 2013

electriccarI expect electric cars to produce less carbon dioxide per mile than gasoline powered cars.   They do, but I expected a bigger difference.  Unfortunately, electric cars take much more electricity to produce than a comparable gasoline powered car.  I hoped an electric car would produce much less CO2 over its lifetime, but that isn’t the case.  It produces some less, but not a great deal less CO2.  We are talking about an 11 percent improvement at the end of six years.  The reason is that the electricity used to charge the car has its own carbon foot print just as the electricity used to build the electric car had  its footprint.  Here is the graph using our current mix of electric power.

Carbon slick

Electric cars and gas cars are equal at 43 thousand miles.  Battery cell replacement starts at about 60,000 miles so the electric car’s carbon curve bends upward at that point.  At 60 thousand miles you have to build new battery cells, and that takes electricity.  You have to recycle old cells, and that takes electricity.  You know where electricity comes from.  I stopped at 60 thousand miles because we don’t know how many new cells it will take to keep the electric cars running as they age.

energy-oldest-nuclear-power-plants-usa-nine-mile-point_37612_600x450You should advocate for nuclear power if you really want to use less carbon.  Nuclear power has a carbon footprint that is about 17 times smaller than solar power and 150 times smaller than coal.  An added benefit is that nuclear power would lower the initial carbon footprint of gasoline powered cars as well.

I didn’t see numbers for hybrid, diesel or natural gas powered cars.  That would be interesting.




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