Are Electric Vehicles Better for the Environment than Gas-Powered Ones?

November 28 2016

Summary

Hydro-Québec, TM4’s shareholder, recently made public a report comparing the complete life-cycle of an electric vehicle vs a gas-powered vehicle in the province of Québec. It makes quite clear that an electric vehicle powered by Québec’s electricity is more environmentally friendly than a conventional vehicle over their respective life cycles (including the manufacturing of components and batteries, transportation from the plant to the user, usage of the vehicle and end of life).

Are electric vehicles really more environmentally friendly than their diesel counterparts? That is a question that is worth taking the time to investigate.

Hydro-Québec, TM4’s shareholder, recently made public a report comparing the complete life-cycle of an electric vehicle vs a gas-powered vehicle in the province of Québec. It makes quite clear that an electric vehicle powered by Québec’s electricity is more environmentally friendly than a conventional vehicle over their respective life cycles (including the manufacturing of components and batteries, transportation from the plant to the user, usage of the vehicle and end of life).

The comparison was made between two vehicles released in 2013 after driving 150 000 km in Québec. The study takes into consideration 5 categories of impact:

  • Human health
  • Quality of ecosystem
  • Climate change
  • Depletion of fossil resources
  • Depletion of mineral resources.

 

The overall result indicates that after accounting 150 000 km of travel, electric vehicles have 65% less impact on the environment than conventional vehicles, and the percentage raises to 85% after 300 000 km of travel.

comparison-ev-vs-diesel

But still, electric vehicle do have an impact on the environment and it’s mainly due to the manufacturing of its components.

A manufacturing process to optimize

When looking at the results of the comparison in the 5 different categories of impact, there is a global conclusion that emerges:

  • Pollution associated to conventional vehicles is related to their usage, while pollution associated to electric vehicles is related to their production.

 

The difference between the components used in a conventional and electric vehicle is mainly explained by the battery and the choice of metals. In fact, there’s at least three times more aluminium and two times more copper used in an electric vehicle (whereas steel and iron are the main metals used in conventional vehicles).

Aluminum is mainly chosen for its low density which serves to counterbalance the additional mass added by the battery. But the fact is that aluminium and copper have up to 7 times more impact on the environment than steel and iron. With a focus on clean manufacturing, the use of alternative battery chemistries and alternative metals, emissions related to electric vehicle could be significantly reduced.

The graphs below show the comparisons between the two types of vehicles in each 5 categories of impact. It can be seen that the extra emissions associated with electric vehicle production are rapidly negated by reduced emissions from driving, except for the depletion of mineral resources.

Human health

human-health

Quality of ecosystem

ecosystem-quality

Climate change

climate-change

Depletion of fossil resources

depletion-of-fossil-ressources

Depletion of mineral resources

depletion-of-mineral-ressources

Conclusion

In light of the results of this analysis, it can be concluded that, when considering the full life cycle of an electric vehicle vs a conventional vehicle, EVs represent an environmentally preferable choice in the province of Québec. The longer the distance travelled, the greater the advantage of electric vehicles.

Potential environmental gains associated with vehicle electrification are directly influenced by the source of electricity production. The figures below illustrate the carbon footprint of electricity generation in different geographical contexts throughout the world.

 

ev-emissions

bouquets-electriques-mondiaux

* The dotted line represents where the carbon footprint of an electric vehicle is equivalent a conventional vehicle

The low carbon footprint in Québec is mainly due to the preponderant use of hydroelectricity; a renewable and low emissions energy source. Vehicle electrification makes complete sense in Québec and should be encouraged in about 90% of the world.

 

N.B : all facts, data and images used in this article are the property of Hydro-Québec.

Maggie Parisé

Maggie Parisé

Marketing Manager at TM4 Inc.
HEC Montreal graduate, Maggie Parisé joined TM4 in 2013 and is now in charge of marketing initiatives. At TM4, her interest for sustainable mobility meets her innate love for creativity.
Maggie Parisé

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