Electric cars better for the environment than traditional cars, says VW study
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It's one of the most heated debates when it comes to electric vehicles: are they genuinely cleaner than petrol and diesels when you take into account their production and the supply of power to keep them running.
Volkswagen - the carmaker at the forefront of the discussion following the emissions-cheating scandal in 2015 - has waded into the argument with its own data.
After crunching the numbers the German brand says that, when you take into account the entire lifespan of a car, pure electric vehicles with zero tailpipe emissions have a smaller cradle-to-grave carbon footprint than petrol or diesel-engined rivals.
In a like-for-like comparison, Volkswagen showed that lifetime CO2 emission production for electric cars was lower than that for combustion-engined models using its ‘certified life cycle assessment’ process.
The company pitted the stats for a pure electric e-Golf against a diesel-powered Golf TDI to illustrate the differences in carbon footprint for electric and diesel over a vehicle's lifespan.
The headline result was that the diesel car produced an average of 140 grams per kilometre of CO2 during a prospective lifetime, while the electric version had CO2 emissions of just 119g/km.
The extra emissions from a lifetime of driving the diesel car outweighed the extra emissions used to make the electric one.
The vehicle maker explained the breakdown for the calculations, including the pollution produced to manufacture and generate fuel for both models.
When driving the cars, it said the supply of diesel and burning of it in the engine resulted in average CO2 outputs of 111g/km for the combustion engine Golf GTI.
That is somewhat higher than the average of 62g/km CO2 produced across the use and charging stage of the e-Golf - including the emissions produced to generate the power grid used to replenish the electric model's battery pack.
While it wasn't included in the calculation, Volkswagen said this figure would drop significantly to just 2g/km CO2 if the e-Golf was charged purely through renewable energy supplies.
The only phase when the combustion engine car produces less CO2 is during the manufacturing process.
Building the Golf TDI produces just 29/km of CO2, while extracting the exotic metals and other materials for the e-Golf's battery results in 57g/km of carbon dioxide per vehicle.
However, that is likely to improve with time as battery technology improves - which Volkswagen says will be the case when its family of ID electric models hit showrooms over the next decade.
VW's figures showed that producing the battery generated by far the largest chunk of CO2 emissions in the electric car's manufacturing process.
One other element up for discussion is the scrappage of battery packs, which are historically difficult to recycle.
Francisco Carranza, energy services MD at Nissan, said previously that the full cost of recycling a vehicle battery is close to €1 per kilogram and that just a third of the raw materials used in them can be reclaimed and reused.
While others have hinted at re-purposing these batteries for use to power other means - such as for home energy storage - Volkswagen suggests the recycling process could improve.
It has already invested in a new facility that breaks down car batteries to salvage the raw materials.
Volkswagen says this process could cut lifecycle carbon emission outputs of electric cars by another 25 per cent, though this won't be felt for another 10 years when the procedure has been perfected.
Earlier this year, analysis by research organisation BloombergNEF claimed that CO2 emissions produced by electric vehicles charged with non-renewable power are 40 per cent lower than the outputs of cars with internal combustion engines.
The global study also found that the UK had the most significant difference between the CO2 outputs of combustion-engine vehicles and electric cars running on power supplied by power stations.
That's because Britain has a large renewable energy industry, according to the research group's New Energy Outlook 2018 report.
Even in countries that are intensely reliant on coal-fired electricity, like China, a battery electric model will always pollute less CO2 than one with an internal combustion engine, it said.