Gasoline vs Electric—Who Wins on Lifetime Global Warming Emissions? We Found Out

, former engineer and Kendall Science Fellow | November 12, 2015, 10:36 am EDT
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I’m excited to introduce our newest analysis on electric cars, titled: Cleaner Cars from Cradle to Grave: How Electric Cars Beat Gasoline Cars in Lifetime Global Warming Emissions. After years of mixed messages on whether electric vehicles (EVs) really are better for the environment, we’re pleased to provide one of the most comprehensive answers to date (sneak peek: yes, they’re cleaner by 50 percent). Here’s what we’ve found…

  • From cradle to grave, battery-electric vehicles are cleaner. On average, battery electric vehicles (BEVs) representative of those sold today produce less than half the global warming emissions of comparable gasoline-powered vehicles, even when the higher emissions associated with BEV manufacturing are taken into consideration. Based on modeling of the two most popular BEVs available today and the regions where they are currently being sold, excess manufacturing emissions are offset within 6 to 16 months of driving.
  • EVs are now driving cleaner than ever before. Driving an average EV results in lower global warming emissions than driving a gasoline car that gets 50 miles per gallon (MPG) in regions covering two-thirds of the U.S. population, up from 45 percent in our 2012 report. Based on where EVs are being sold in the United States today, the average EV driving on electricity produces global warming emissions equal to a gasoline vehicle with a 68 MPG fuel economy rating.
  • EVs will become even cleaner as more electricity is generated by renewable sources of energy. In a grid composed of 80 percent renewable electricity, manufacturing a BEV will result in an over 25 percent reduction in emissions from manufacturing and an 84 percent reduction in emissions from driving—for an overall reduction of more than 60 percent (compared with a BEV manufactured and driven today).

Global warming emissions from driving

Although a BEV has no tailpipe emissions, the total global warming emissions from operating it are not insignificant; they depend on the sources of the electricity that charge the vehicle’s batteries and on the efficiency of the vehicle. We estimated the global warming emissions from electricity consumption in the 26 “grid regions” of the United States—representing the group of power plants that together serve as each region’s primary source of electricity—and we rated each region based on how charging and using an EV there compares with driving a gasoline vehicle.

vehicles-m-emissions-map-socialEmissions from operating electric vehicles are likely to keep falling, as national data from 2013 to 2015 show a declining percentage of electricity generated by coal power and an increase in renewable resources such as wind and solar. Additionally, the Clean Power Plan finalized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2015 offers opportunities for even greater progress, as states must collectively cut their power-sector carbon emissions 32 percent by 2030 (based on 2005 levels). Meanwhile, many EV owners are pairing electric vehicle purchases with home investments in solar energy. With increasing levels of renewable electricity coming onto the grid, with carbon standards for fossil-fuel power plants beginning to be implemented, and with continued improvements in vehicle technologies, the emissions-reduction benefits of EVs will continue to grow.

Global warming emissions from manufacturing

life-cycle-ev-emissionsGlobal warming emissions occur when manufacturing any vehicle, regardless of its power source, but BEV production results in higher emissions than the making of gasoline cars—mostly due to the materials and fabrication of the BEV lithium-ion battery. Under the average U.S. electricity grid mix, we found that producing a midsize, midrange (84 miles per charge) BEV similar to a Nissan LEAF typically adds a little over 1 ton of global warming emissions to the total manufacturing emissions, resulting in 15 percent greater emissions than in manufacturing a similar gasoline vehicle.

However, replacing gasoline use with electricity reduces overall emissions by 51 percent over the life of the car. A full-size long-range (265 miles per charge) BEV similar to a Tesla Model S, with its larger battery, adds about six tons of emissions, which increases manufacturing emissions by 68 percent over the gasoline version. But this electric vehicle results in 53 percent lower overall emissions compared with a similar gasoline vehicle (see Figure below).

In other words, the extra emissions associated with electric vehicle production are rapidly negated by reduced emissions from driving. Comparing an average midsize midrange BEV with an average midsize gasoline-powered car, it takes just 4,900 miles of driving to “pay back”—i.e., offset—the extra global warming emissions from producing the BEV. Similarly, it takes 19,000 miles with the full-size long-range BEV compared with a similar gasoline car. Based on typical usages of these vehicles, this amounts to about six months’ driving for the midsize midrange BEV and 16 months for the full-size long-range BEV.

Meanwhile, the global warming emissions of manufacturing BEVs are falling as automakers gain experience and improve production efficiency. With a focus on clean manufacturing, emissions could fall even more. There are many ways in which the EV industry might reduce these manufacturing-related emissions, including:

  • Advances in manufacturing efficiency and in the recycling or reuse of lithium-ion batteries;
  • The use of alternative battery chemistries that require less energy-intensive materials; and
  • The use of renewable energy to power manufacturers’ and suppliers’ facilities.

We also made the below to summarize the results, and you can use our interactive tool to explore emissions from driving an electric car in your area. Please share to get the word out that electric vehicles are clean and getting cleaner!

If you have more questions about the report join us on Monday November 16th when my colleague Dave and I will be hosting an Ask Me Anything (AMA) on Reddit.

So there you have it. Electric cars are clean and getting cleaner, even on a life cycle basis

Posted in: Vehicles

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  • Bob Smith

    I just love driving my electric car on vacation and stopping every 100 miles to recharge for 6-8 hours so I can go another 100 miles. I can travel across the country in short order while protecting the environment! It makes me feel just so special!

  • David Thatcher

    So basically if you don’t live in one of the light blue regions it is better for the environment to buy a Prius.

    • rnealer

      Thanks for the comment David. We encourage consumers to buy the most efficient vehicle for their needs and to consider EVs in those options. The benefit of purchasing an EV today, is that over time as the global warming emissions of the electricity decrease by adding more renewables to the grid and fully implementing policies like the Clean Power Plan, EVs in the “good” and “better” regions will get better over its 15 year lifetime. If you purchase a hybrid in those areas you will continue to get the MPG estimate of the car, and not any of the emissions savings from running the car on electricity.

  • RobbertPatrison

    Here is another way to summarise the conclusions of the report. Horizontal is the electric generation emissions of the energy mix (0 lbs/kWh for solar and wind, 1.22 for natural gas and 2.1 for coal). Vertical is the total CO2 emissions for 12000 miles driven (several gasoline cars are drawn in). In California the mix is 0.7 lbs/kWh, so a LEaf is cleaner than a Prius. But In coal-powered Pennsylvania it is actually dirtier. A $100K Electric Tesla model S is always cleaner than a comparable Porsche Panamera. https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/6728431/co2.jpg

  • RobbertPatrison

    The report is fine. As a long-time EV driver I do think that data is spun slightly too much in favor of EVs. An electric Nissan Leaf is not cleaner than a 50MPG gasoline powered Toyota Prius given the average 1.2lbs CO2/kWh load of the US power grid. Both the LEaf and the Prius are roughly the same size and cost. So it does not make a lot of sense to subsidize the EV and not the efficient ICE car. The easiest way to reduce CO2 emissions seems to be to get people out of 20MPG SUVs and into 40+MPG Hybrid cars. That helps 2x.

    • rnealer

      Thanks for your comment Robbert! The global warming emissions benefits of EVs extend beyond today’s electricity grid as we implement policies like the Clean Power Plan and add more renewables to the grid. We see EVs as a way to reduce gasoline consumption and realize the greatest global warming emissions benefits available. The benefits of hybrid vehicles today may be better in some regions, but over the lifetime of the vehicle (usually about 15 years) hybrids will not benefit from the global warming emissions reductions of an increasingly cleaner electricity grid an EV would over that same time. We agree getting inefficient cars off the road is important, and encourage consumers to find the most fuel efficient car for their needs, including hybrids, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles and battery-electric vehicles.

      • RobbertPatrison

        Thanks for the response. Here in California my EV is about 2x cleaner than a Prius, so that makes sense. On average, however, it is not beneficial for CO2 to buy a midsize EV vs an efficient gasoline hybrid car. Though it is true that EVs get cleaner over time as the grid gets cleaner, its just not much of an effect. The best data I could find shows that electricity gets about 1%-2% cleaner each year, not enough to make a difference over the lifespan of the EV. For comparison, the EV battery loses ~30% capacity over 10 years, while the Prius just keeps on driving. Also, at current low gasoline prices and high electric rates ($2.5/gal, $0.17/kWh), there is zero cost advantage to driving electric.

      • RobbertPatrison

        Another thing to consider is the significant efficiency drop of electric vehicles in cold weather. That is because its expensive to heat the cabin and the battery (up to 7kW!). Conventional cars produce abundant free waste heat. At freezing temperatures, a Nissan Leaf loses about 30% of its efficiency, while my Volt loses almost 50% vs EPA rated efficiency. Hot weather is not as much of a problem. So it would make sense to adjust for that in the states with long and cold winters. Here is some measurement data:https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/6728431/Volt_Temp_vs_range.jpg

  • Bob Smith

    The name “Union of Concerned Scientists” strikes me the same way the label “Progressive” does. It infers that if you are not a member of their club, you are not concerned or backward thinking. They are arrogant, self-righteous and divisive labels. Now just watch the reaction my comment gets if you don’t believe me.

    • rnealer

      Hi Bob, We are a science-based organization and strive to make our analyses transparent, non-partisan, and available to everyone. Happy to answer any questions you may have on the report. Thanks!

  • Instead of using the average GHG emissions from all current electricity sources, shouldn’t you be looking at the marginal emissions caused by added demand? I could easily imagine that in some regions, adding demand over the next few years will delay the shutdown of coal plants, while in other regions it will accelerate the construction of new gas plants or wind turbines or even solar farms. Nuclear and hydro are practically irrelevant to marginal generation, even though they’re the biggest zero-GHG contributors to the grid today. A further refinement would be to find out when during the day most people have their electric cars plugged in; if it’s in the evening when they get home from work, solar panels on the roof aren’t going to help.

    • rnealer

      Hi Dan, I posted a blog a while ago describing the two types of emissions accounting you can find in my blog archive (posted July 14, 2015). And there’s also a longer discussion of the issue in the appendix of the report starting on page 42. We chose to use average emissions to answer the specific question: what are the average global warming emissions of EVs today. Using marginal emissions answers a different question. Check out our discussion on the issue and let me know if you have any additional questions. Thanks!

  • David Coale

    Great report and analysis on life cycle emissions. Now USC needs to follow up on the economics BEVs. In California where there are probably the most BEVs and with the state and federal rebates and tax credits along with very good leasing rates, BEVs are less expensive to own/lease in the long run.

    Has UCS done this analysis? This really makes the BEVs the best choice over all for many people.

    • rnealer

      Thanks, David! The Clean Vehicles program continues to work on the various aspects of EVs, not just global warming emissions. We have a couple bloggers who write about EVs (Dave Reichmuth, Josh Goldman, and Don Anair) you can follow on our UCS blog and stay tuned for future analyses on EVs.

  • Brian Donovan

    I think it’s very misleading to count the emission from the generators
    for electricity in general for caculating the footprint of any new
    technology. We should only count the added emissions, not the
    upstream ones.

    Maybe we just have to make an assumption about the future system, we are
    aiming for. For instance if, it’s solar and wind backed with hydro,
    and fuels from wastes or synthetic fuels in reserve generators. That
    system has zero net ghg, even negative using waste biochar/pyro where
    the char is used to enhance poor soils.

    Mixing up the current energy systems ghg with the future systems makes for
    bad planning. The electricity car doc for instance list solar as more
    ghg emitting than nuclear, probably because of the electricity from
    existing fossils generation. That’s not solar’s fault. Nuclear on the
    other hand has inescapable ghg emissions most from mining, refining,
    construction and waste care. Concrete for instance.

    Mixing them up. means I have no idea what ghg the solar versus nuclear
    actually emit, I mostly know that the energy they use does. Now. Not
    in the future.

    Think about it. Separate the upstream GHG emissions if the will not be part
    of the target replacement energy system.

    (sorry for the typo)

    • rnealer

      Thanks, Brian. That is an interesting framing. The life cycle assessment we present in this report is a common way to compare electric vehicles and gasoline cars with the most recent data available. We focus on the global warming impacts of today’s EVs and expect it to get better as we clean up the grid with policies like the Clean Power Plan and increasing our use of renewable electricity generation. Even today EVs are better than the average gasoline car (at 29 MPG) everywhere in the country in terms of global warming emissions and we expect EVs to get even cleaner.

  • John

    I read the temperature when you operate your EV is really important and EVs are actually worse than ICEs in cold-weather states. Did the study account for that?

    • Mark Renburke

      Where did you read that? As someone going into a 4th winter driving 75 miles a day in a PEV (Chevy Volt), I can provide some insight into that, and why it is not a critical component to include when studying PEV emissions.

      In a nutshell, while they may average 20% lower than EPA rating in winter (versus 12% for a gasoline only car), they also may get 20% greater than EPA in Spring, Fall, and even summer, so it largely cancels out, and the EPA ratings are pretty close as an annual average.

      I average 15-40% over EPA year round (40-50 simply because I drive well, don’t commute on the highway, and I use heated seats to stay quite comfortable unless it’s really cold, so admittedly my results can’t be held up as typical like the EPA rating are. So I’d of course also like to hear the UCS take on this from a research perspective, as I can only offer the real world one.

    • rnealer

      Thanks, John. That is outside the scope of the report. We use an average efficiency of the BEVs as reported by fueleconomy.gov. There is guidance on how weather can impact EV range, but note that cold weather will also decrease the efficiency of gasoline vehicles as well. You can find more information here: https://www.fueleconomy.gov/feg/coldweather.shtml

    • RobbertPatrison

      EV efficiency drops 25%-50% with freezing temperatures vs mild summer temperatures. ICE cars don’t have this problem because they produce abundant free waste heat to heat the cabin. The effect is significant in colder states (east, midwest), so it should be reflected in the MPG map. Heat does not have nearly as much of an effect on efficiency.

  • When we migrate our baseload energy demand away from coal towards renewables, electric vehicles will make even more sense than they do now …

  • So, let me understand this. Cutting our mountain tops off to fuel our cars is less harnfull then burning oil from a hole in the ground.

    • Mark Renburke

      Less than 40% of electricity comes from coal over the past several years; it was jus 31% in April 2015. And in the regions where most PEVs are being adopted (West Coast for example) and will be in greater numbers in coming decades (New England for example), coal generation is either extremely low % or being phased out all together.

      Let’s all just agree that using coal to make electricity is not good long term, but that’s not a problem to pin erroneously on PEVs, rather to continue to solve to clean up the whole grid (you know, that already powers homes, businesses, factories, etc)

      Electrifying vehicles puts the power to keep reducing transportation emissions in centralized and typically more remote locations where power plants are (and unlike petroleum, from already 1/3 non-carbon sources such as nuclear, hydro, wind, etc)…rather than millions of uncontrolled tailpipes near the faces of our men, women, and children.

  • Mark Renburke

    Note: the LEAF’s cathode material is:
    Cathode material LiMn2O4 with LiNiO2
    which is the lower manufacturing impact type, per Argonne data. The Volt’s is a similar, possible variant of this. Not sure about Tesla; Panasonic commodity cells at present, but this will change once the totally renewables powered Gigafactory comes online.

    Reference for LEAF battery chemistry:
    http://www.electricvehiclewiki.com/Battery_specs

  • rnealer

    Thanks for your comments!

    RE: Kay and David on emissions other than global warming emissions. You’re correct that those were out of the scope of the analysis, but still important. Unfortunately, the data available for other emissions related to mining and extraction are more uncertain than data on global warming emissions. However, many of these pollutants are subject to local environmental regulations to manage local emissions and environmental impacts. With respect to other pollutants from electricity generation, those are also subject to regulations and as we switch away from coal generation we expect the other pollutants to decrease as well as global warming emissions. In the report we do lay out the options for battery disposal: landfill, reuse, or recycling. We expect, because of the residual value when they are no longer in the vehicle, the batteries will most likely be reused or recycled. In the case of reuse or recycling that could mean reduced mining impacts use the batteries or their parts for other applications instead of using new materials. Since EVs are still a fairly new technology and vehicle turnover happens relatively slowly, we will have to see how this plays out in the near future. We recommend increased research in battery development and pilot projects with a focus on reuse and recycling so we are getting the most out of the batteries with the least environmental impact.

    • Kay

      thanks for the additional thoughts! Love you guys. 🙂 I left a 2nd reply to mark below, where I had a few questions, but don’t want to repeat the whole thing again–it was long-winded enough the first time. Basically, I was wondering if the 2 cars for which you modelled emissions (the first bullet point in the article) had the same type of EV battery? Thanks!

      • rnealer

        Thanks, Kay. We modeled the 84-mile range BEV (similar to the Nissan LEAF) with Lithium Nickel Manganese Cobalt Oxide (NCM) chemistry and the 265-mile range BEV (similar to a Tesla Model S) with Lithium Cobalt Oxide (LCO) chemistry. In the appendix of the report (pg. 39) you can see the effect this could have on the manufacturing global warming emissions.

  • Richard Solomon

    Thanks for a great summary of these issues. This confirms what I already was suspecting: that EV’s offer a great way to reduce one’s carbon footprint when it comes to transportation. It may be a few more years before my wife and I are ready to replace one of our cars. But when we do we will certainly give an EV very strong consideration.

    PS We have been very happy owners of a Prius for 7 years now.

  • jharr

    If we are including the emissions involved in the manufacture of the batteries, shouldn’t we also include the emissions involved in the manufacture of the gasoline? I don’t think this is included here. This should include everything from drilling and extracting the crude oil, shipping to the refinery, the refinement process, and then shipping both to the oil depots, and from the depots to the retailers (gas stations). This would change the numbers, but by how much?

  • Kay

    Well, that was going to be my question too! This is great information to have–thanks for the hard look at emissions. It’d be wonderful if UCS were able to do the same sort comparison between gas, hybrid, & electric vehicles looking beyond only emissions, but to the entire environmental ‘load’ of each. I’ve held off on electric because of the awful world of mining, heavy metals, and disposal of batteries, to say nothing of the working conditions & environmental toxins involved in the production. And then there’s the electric power required to charge all those batteries. It seems like a more complicated issue that emissions alone, although an important start.

    • Mark Renburke

      EV batteries don’t contain “heavy metals” and are considered non-toxic and both re-usable (as power backup at end of automotive life, after 10-15 years) and recycleable. There are a lot of myths out there about EV batteries, so perhaps you read some?

      The impacts from production are also not significant compared to the much greater use phase impacts of gasoline refining and consumption, as research like this from UCS and other research institutions show.

      As for the “electric power required to charge”, that emissions impact is of course also fully included in such studies; As well, since most charging (85% or more) occurs at night (off peak demand and conveniently while the driver sleeps), impacts to the grid demand are very minimal, estimated that many tens of millions of PEVs could already be adopted with no grid upgrades required. The impacts of home air conditioning adoption (1950s, 1970s) were far greater a strain to the grid that EVs would be, as they slowly phase in over decades.

      Anecdotally, I charge my Volt every night back to Full at just an 8 amp rate (this is about what a single medium sized window air conditioner draws in continuous operation) and then easily drive 35 miles in to work, on battery alone. Then I take 3 seconds to plug in when I get home, rinse and repeat. It is a great convenience to NEVER in over 3 years to have to stop at the gas station when I am headed in (already late;) for work! 🙂

      • Kay

        Hi Mark, Thanks for that, esp about your sense of the negligible increase on power demands. That would be good if so, because it seems powering batteries could be a potential problem area, not so much because of the additional load on its own, but how that electricity is generated–i.e. by coal. If we’re charging EVs with coal-fired electricity, it could be a bit of a Pyrrhic victory.

        I do believe some EV batteries do indeed contain heavy metals.

        Perhaps I have read some ‘myths,’ but I tend towards things that seem like solid and reasonable science.

        I found a recent EPA report on this topic, and am trying to work my way through it.

        Here is a link to the full report, if anyone else is interested: http://www2.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2014-01/documents/lithium_batteries_lca.pdf

        In the UCS report, it said its modelled emissions created in the manufacture of 2 of the most popular EV car (the first bullet point). I was curious if those 2 cars use the same types of batteries?

        I ask because it sounds like there are a few different types of EV batteries, which is of the the main determiners of the total impact of the technology, including but not limited to emissions considerations. And some of them do contain heavy metals.

        As far as heavy metals, the EPA report stated, “the choice of active material for the cathode influences the results across most of the impact categories.” And so, for instance, Li-NCM chemistry batteries use heavy metals like cobalt and nickel, which have significant cancer and non-cancer, neurologic toxicity.

        According to that EPA report, other battery chemistries, such as LiMnO2 and LiFePO4, don’t use the same heavy metals in production, but do deplete the ozone more than Li_NCM varieties. (if i’m getting that all right)

        And in all EV batteries, “the cathode is a dominant contributor to upstream and component manufacturing impacts. The cathode active materials appear to all require large quantities of energy to manufacture. However, the data indicate that the Li-NCM cathode active material requires approximately 50% more primary energy than the other two active materials.” Also, there are batteries manufactured without solvent, which appear to use much less energy than solvent-based ones.

        That’s why I was curious if the 2 most popular EV cars that UCS modelled in the article used the same type of batteries.

        I saw your comment below, Mark, in reply to David, so I’ll look into that study more too. The EPA report makes mention of it as well.

        One thing I didn’t see mentioned in the EPA report–but I’m still working my non-scientist way through–is disposal. And, related, how long the batteries last in the first place. A battery life span noted as 10-15 years seems like a big spread. The computations might come out pretty different if we assume a battery lasts 10 years vs 15. I didn’t see battery life noted in the UCS report. The EPA noted that a number of ‘impact categories’ are incredibly sensitive to changes in battery lifetime, and if you tweak those, you can get some vastly different numbers.

        I appreciate the conversation. I’m actually in favor of the idea of EV, I just want to know we’re not doing what we humans seem to be so good at doing: rushing to the Next Great Thing to avoid the problems we created in the past, without paying attention to all the new problems we’re creating as we go.

        Thanks.

      • Mark Renburke

        Please note that nickel and cobalt are NOT toxic heavy metals (like lead, cadmium, etc) Lithium batteries are non-toxic, safe for landills, but best when reused after 15 years and recycled after 20+.
        https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heavy_metal_(chemistry)

      • Mark Renburke

        Kay,

        Also, reposted from below: Take a look at what scientists and researchers from ANL (Argonne National Laboratory) conclude on the life cycle impacts of lithium mining and battery production. The main points are:

        1) Batteries are small contributors to life-cycle energy use and CO2 emissions (also confirmed by this UCS research and UCLA, PNAS studies)

        2) Impacts from lithium “mining” (brine extraction) production are minimal compared to other types of mining/extraction

        3) Battery manufacturing steps are not energy intensive and the materialized are well-characterized (energy impacts well understood, not rare earths, not toxic, etc)

        http://www.transportation.anl.gov/pdfs/B/945.PDF

      • Mark Renburke

        Finally, here’s another study (UCLA) from 3 years ago using mainly the CA grid assumptions and draws the same conclusions as UCS on a smaller regional scale. Note the energy inputs on page 7 as it is a very good indicator correlating to the amount of waste and pollutants generated in the process, as all manufacturing processes require energy and create waste. It’s worth noting that NOT included in these studies are the even cleaner process-energy facts that both GM and Nissan now have significant solar panel systems at their auto plants, and GM’s is also a certified zero landfill site. Also, the Volt’s battery is now manufactured right there in MI nearby the assembly plant so under US EPA regulations.
        http://www.environment.ucla.edu/media/files/BatteryElectricVehicleLCA2012-rh-ptd.pdf

      • Mark Renburke

        Kay, in response to your question about the battery material: the LEAF’s cathode material is:
        Cathode material LiMn2O4 with LiNiO2
        which is the lower manufacturing impact type, per Argonne data. The Volt’s is a similar, possible variant of this. Not sure about Tesla; Panasonic commodity cells at present, but this will change once the totally renewables powered Gigafactory comes online.

        Reference for LEAF battery chemistry:
        http://www.electricvehiclewiki.com/Battery_specs

      • Mark Renburke

        ps The Chevy Volt (not studied here) has the same lower manufacturing impact cathode chemistry as the LEAF, but a more robust/longer calendar life anode material:
        “The Volt’s battery cell is manufactured by LG Chem, is a pouch type cell with stacked elements, a LiMn2O4 cathode from Nikki Catalysis, a hard carbon anode (which is more robust and has better/longer calendar life properties than the graphite anode in the Leaf’s battery cell) from Kureha, a Celgard PP dry/SRS separator, and a PC type LiPF6 electrolyte produced in-house by LG Chem.”

  • David Henderson

    I appreciate the cradle-to-grave analysis, as I am worried about the harms of battery manufacturing. But I suspect that measuring the global warming emissions involved does not capture the true environmental cost of battery production. The harms I’m worried about are the more locally concentrated impacts of mining and of hazardous waste. How do you see these fitting into an overall analysis of electric vehicles?

    • Mark Renburke

      Since lithium makes up a small percentage by weight of the battery, the impacts from its specific extraction are actually less that that from some other battery materials, such as aluminum, for example. As is the case with any new vehicle, whether electric and/or gasoline, there are the metals/materials mining, waste, and recycling impacts to consider and compare, and overall energy use and overall emissions are important key indicators as to the relative overall impacts/waste of these processes.

      Take a look at what scientists and researchers from ANL (Argonne National Laboratory) conclude on the life cycle impacts of lithium mining and the whole battery production. The main points are:

      1) Batteries are small contributors to life-cycle energy use and CO2 emissions

      2) Impacts from lithium “mining” (brine extraction) production are minimal

      3) Battery manufacturing steps are not energy intensive and the materialized are well-characterized (and not rare metals, not toxic, etc)

      http://www.transportation.anl.gov/pdfs/B/945.PDF