Electric Cars Outperform Gas-Powered Vehicles In Cutting Emissions, Study Finds

Nov 14, 2015 06:54 PM EST | John Nassivera

A new cradle-to-grave study is showing evidence that electric cars truly are better for the environment than their gas-powered counterparts, as it has found that they produce less greenhouse gas emissions.

The study, conducted by the Union of Concerned Scientists, came to this conclusion by looking at several factors in auto manufacturing and operations, with researchers finding that electric vehicles are beating fossil-fuel vehicles in every area in the U.S., The Los Angeles Times reported. Such factors included emissions from automobile and battery manufacturing, how electricity is made, how much electricity is used during transmission to factories and electric vehicles, and whether the emissions came from oil extraction, refining or transportation to gas stations.

While EVs did the most pollution reducing in upstate New York and other places with good supplies of renewable energy, they didn't do so well in Kansas, Missouri, Colorado and other states in central America that still need coal to produce electricity.

"Although a battery electric vehicle has no tailpipe emissions, the total global warming emissions from operating it are not significant; they depend on the sources of the electricity that charge the vehicle's batteries and on the efficiency of the vehicle," said Rachael Nealer, a UCS scientist and author of the study.

Since the average electric car in the U.S. produces pollution equivalent to that of a gas car that gets 68 miles per gallon, EVs cut emissions by 60 percent compared to their fossil-fuel counterparts, the study noted, according to Grist.

The study also notes that electric cars produce less than half the global warming emissions in the U.S. that comparable gas cars do, even when the emissions produced by EV manufacturing is taken into account.

The results were based on America's two best-selling EVs: the Nissan Leaf and Tesla Model S, The LA Times noted. The size of the battery was also a factor, as bigger batteries produce more emissions than smaller ones, which explains why the Leaf offsets its excess manufacturing emissions in about 4,900 miles and the Model S offsets in about 19,000 miles.

The study also depended on data from organizations like the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Argonne National Laboratory.

Nealer said that the results show how important electric cars are in achieving the deep emissions reductions by the middle of the century that are needed to avoid the worst that climate change has to offer. She also believes that the evolution of technology will allow EVs to keep doing better than gas cars.

"It is really impressive how much cleaner electric cars have become in just the last three years," Nealer said.

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