How Much CO2 Do Electric Cars Produce

How Much CO2 Do Electric Cars Produce

We have all seen advertisements on television claiming that electric cars are battery powered, hence are considered “Zero Emission”. This is an ingenious strategy major companies follow to sell their products to the large scale public.

Not only is it entirely wrong, it is also quite possible that electric cars are worse than gasoline powered cars when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions on the long run. 

In fact, the widely used term “Zero Emission” is misleading that it’s not a surprise so many companies manage to get away using it.

Everything aside, the main focus of the hour is “How much CO2 do Electric Cars produce?

The answer to this question is that electric cars do produce a significant amount of CO2 and according to research conducted by a Swedish Environment Institute, the most CO2 emitted at one time in the life of an electric car is 17.5 tons and this is only to manufacture the battery of the car.

So let’s take a look at how much CO2 electric cars produce during their life span and I’ll explain a few points to help minimize these emissions in the long run.

How Much CO2 Do Electric Cars Produce

Though your electric car may not require gas to work, there are chances that it will still utilize energy produced by burning fossil fuels. Depending on how your regional power-grid is producing electricity, your e-car may be just as harmful to the environment as a conventional gasoline car.

In states like California that are large producers of sustainable energy, owning an electric car will be a better choice than a hybrid. Whereas if you’re residing in the South where electricity is generated using carbon based fuels, you will actually be promoting higher CO2 emissions. 

There are a couple of factors that have to be considered before you can actually understand how much CO2 electric cars produce:

  • How Much CO2 is Produced While Manufacturing an Electric Car?
  • Recharging your Car’s Battery: Cause of CO2 emissions or a Solution?
  • How are Electric Car Batteries Disposed of?
  • What Happens to Your Tires after they’re worn out?

How Much CO2 is Produced While Manufacturing an Electric Car?

How Much CO2 Do Electric Cars Produce

It’s important to note that during the manufacturing process of an electric car there is a significant amount of greenhouse gases that are released into the atmosphere. This is a result of the fossil fuels and rare earth elements used during this process.

  • During the manufacture process many rare earth elements like Cobalt, Nickel and Lithium are extracted, refined and manufactured into many components that will later be assembled into an electric car. 
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According to Union of Concerned Scientists and the data compiled by the Swedish Environment Institute, the total carbon emitted a the time of manufacturing an electric car is 17.5 tons.

Why is this?

Well it’s mainly because electric cars have to store their energy in something equally large, like a high-capacity battery pack and the bigger the battery pack the higher the carbon emissions. 

How Much CO2 is Produced While Manufacturing an Electric Car?
  • This happens because big battery packs are made from large quantities of rare earth elements that are mined from beneath the earth. This mining process produces acid waste and radioactive residue which are not always disposed of appropriately. 
  • The manufacture of the batteries also involves refining these elements into a form best suited for a battery and there’s waste generated during this process as well. 
  • CO2 emissions during the manufacturing process also depends on which state the manufacturing plant is located in and what forms of energy are used to produce electricity to power the plant.

Recharging your Car’s Battery: Cause of CO2 emissions or a Solution?

How Much CO2 is Produced While Manufacturing an Electric Car?

At the moment, recharging your electric car will cause more CO2 emissions than act as a solution to the current problem. The amount of CO2 that is released into the environment every time you charge your car’s battery varies significantly depending on the actual source of the current and how it was produced. 

  • A power-grid normally runs on fossil fuels and unless you’re recharging your battery from a sustainable green energy source, you’re doing way more damage to the environment than a gasoline powered car.

According the a report authored by Brandon Schottle and Michael Sivak, an electric car that is recharged by a coal-powered electricity plant will produce as much CO2 as a 29 miles per gallon gasoline car. 

  • In America, solar, wind and geothermal energy perform far better than coal and other fossil fuels but unfortunately nearly 64% of the electricity produced in America is from fossil fuels and natural gas.
How Much CO2 do Electric Cars Produce
  • During the lifetime of your car’s battery, you would have released more CO2 without realizing it than those pesky gasoline cars, thus contributing more to global warming.
  • Until the entire power grid gets an upgrade and our electricity is generated in an environmentally friendly way, electric cars will be far from being considered “zero emission vehicles”. 
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Now this may take some time and is not something that’s fiction, in fact some countries in Europe are depending solely on renewable sources of energy allowing them to be considered green cities as they have a very low carbon footprint. America is far from that but we’re heading in the right direction.

How are Electric Car Batteries Disposed of?

How Much CO2 do Electric Cars Produce

In the traditional sense, car batteries which are the typical lead-acid batteries are recycled within the U.S. This process is easy as it’s a composition of various fossil fuels and can ultimately be reused and recycled. 

  • The case with electric car batteries is not the same, electric car batteries are made from Lithium-ion and a composition of chemicals that deem them unfit to be recycled. 
  • Lithium–ion batteries for electric cars are either burned or dumped in a landfill at the end of their life and this process definitely does not make electric cars greener for the environment. 

What we have to take into consideration is that if there is no proper battery disposal technique in place we’re going to end up having more carbon emissions than we can handle. Dumping batteries in a landfill is not only bad for the environment but even bad for us. When these chemicals seep through the ground and enter our water supply, who knows what’s to come. 

Another great concept would be to find a way to have these Lithium-ion batteries recycled or given a second life. This will help cut down the number of batteries already in circulation and until we can figure out a permanent and Eco-friendly solution to the disposal of batteries we have to do the best with what we can and not damage the environment any more than we already have.

Tire Wear Pollution: What Happens to Your Car Tires as they Wear Out?

How Much CO2 do Electric Cars Produce

What we don’t take into mind is that rubber tires tend to release particulate matter into the environment as they wear out. Harmful particles from the heavy-duty rubber tires used are a growing problem and with larger vehicles such as trucks and electric cars that use extremely heavy batteries, more rubber is being used on their tires to withstand the load.

  • Though CO2 emissions are regulated everywhere and we know just what damage is being done, the particulate emissions from rubber tires are not regulated thus leading to higher ‘non-exhaust emissions’ in electric cars.
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As compared with the regulated limit of 8 milligrams per mile of CO2 exhaust emission, rubber tires generally emit more by a factor of 1000. As noted by Emission Analytics, conditions of the road, tire inflation and budget of the tires contribute to the overall particulate emission as the tires wear out. 

Electric car tires release something called non-exhaust emissions or NEE, the complete life cycle of a rubber tire is what has a great impact on the environment. Tires that are not recycled are either dumped or burned, this is a real problem for the environment as substantial pollutants are released into the air and ground. The more tires there are in circulation the more NEE and damage is done.

Recycling and Re-Purposing Tires

How Much CO2 do Electric Cars Produce

Tires are one of those few things that can be recycled and used in the manufacturing process of other products. This can reduce the load of tires being dumped in landfills and ultimately reduce the amount of heavy metals and pollutants that are released into the ground and water. 

Tires can be repurposed to be used alternatively, making a table or set of chairs from used tires is one way you can re-purpose your old tires. Repurposed tires can be used as an affordable alternative construction material and can be used to make sustainable housing. 


From this it is possible to understand just how non Eco-Friendly electric cars truly are. Though there are no CO2 emissions from their tail pipes, electric cars do produce a substantial amount of CO2 during their lifetime. 

Maybe the world is just not ready for electric modes of transportation, maybe we are ready for it and only time can tell. Till then  it’s best we resort to public modes of transportation until technology advances to the point where we do not rely on fossil fuels or rare earth elements for the production and upkeep of an electric car.

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