How clean are electric cars?

Yoann Gimbert — May 30, 2022

How much CO2 can electric cars really save compared to diesel and petrol cars? To answer this question we have developed a tool (see below) that compiles all the most up-to-date data on CO2 emissions linked to the use of an electric, diesel or petrol car.

We have taken into account all possible criteria such as the amount of CO2 emitted when electricity is produced or fuel is burnt, as well as the carbon impact of resource extraction for batteries or of building a power plant. We find out that electric cars in Europe emit, on average, more than 3 times less CO2 than equivalent petrol cars.

In the worst case scenario, an electric car with a battery produced in China and driven in Poland still emits 37% less CO2 than petrol. And in the best case scenario, an electric car with a battery produced in Sweden and driven in Sweden can emit 83% less than petrol.
We also see that electric cars bought in 2030 will reduce CO2 emissions four-fold thanks to an EU grid relying more and more on renewables.
Despite their green credentials, HEVs’ and PHEVs’ lifecycle emissions are much closer to polluting conventional petrol cars than to BEVs. The results show that HEVs only achieve a 21% reduction in LCA emissions compared to an equivalent petrol car while PHEV improvements are limited to 26%.
For cars bought in 2030, a hybrid electric vehicle powered by a blend of e-fuels and petrol – according to the fuel industry forecasts – would reduce its lifecycle emissions by just 5% compared to powering the same vehicle with petrol. If the hybrid vehicle runs on pure renewable e-fuel – a hypothetical scenario, unlikely to be achieved – it could emits 82% less. Even then, the cleanest battery electric vehicle would still be 27% cleaner than the pure e-fuel hybrid, mainly due to the low efficiency of the e-fuel production process.
This tool will be updated as new data is available. For more information about the way we selected and compiled data, please read the attached briefing and FAQ.

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