Just how far do you have to drive your electric car before you have actually lowered your carbon emissions? Much further than you'd think, one new report suggests.

One of the primary things that draws new car buyers to opt for fully electric vehicles is the supposed environmental benefits driving one brings. With a BEV burning no fossil fuels and emitting no CO2 directly as a result, it’s easy to see why they’re quickly becoming bigger sellers both in Australia and around the world.

But a report released this week by Austrian powertrain specialist AVL has revealed some damning truths about the actual environmental impact battery electric vehicles do have from right at the beginning of the manufacturing process in comparison to a traditional petrol car.

The most notable finding of AVL’s study was just how bad for the environment the construction of electric car battery packs is, with the example noted being that sourcing the raw material and producing the cells for a 60kWh battery pack is responsible for emitting the same amount of greenhouse gasses as constructing an entire petrol-engined car in the United States, where only 13 percent of the country’s power comes from renewable sources.

To be even more specific, AVL executive vice president Uwe Grebe noted when speaking to Autoline Network that using the US energy mix to produce such a battery, it would be contributing around one tonne of CO2 per 10kWh of capacity. You can go ahead and do the maths there.

More relevant to consider for the less scientifically inclined, however, will be that AVL calculated that for a battery EV to break even with a petrol-powered car in terms of greenhouse gas emissions would take 80,000 miles of driving on average, which translates to 128,000km.

When you start to crunch the rest of the numbers on it, the extent of the damage EVs can cause is clear. Given that on average, Australians drive around 15,000km per year, it would take just over 8.5 years to reach the point of breaking even.

However, given most drivers of electric cars use them primarily to drive in cities due to the limited charging infrastructure, long charge times, and battery range that at best barely reaches that of a petrol car, it’s unlikely many, if any, would be actually covering 15,000km a year.

What’s more, if the battery pack in your electric car needed replacing before you’d hit 128,000km, which could well be likely given their expected lifespans of only around 5-10 years depending on how you charge and drive them, having that battery pack replaced would be causing as much damage as simply buying an entirely new car.

Of course, these figures are based off the power mix of the United States, so depending on how prominent the use of renewable energy sources is in your country, the figures may differ, but it wouldn’t be by a great margin, especially for us here in Australia where the use of renewables is fairly comparable to that of the US.

It’s worth noting that while EVs may currently be worse for the environment overall than petrol cars, there’s a chance the scales may begin to tip to the electric car’s favour eventually, assuming renewable energy sources are more widely optimised and utilised both here in Australia and around the world.

There are also other reasons why electric cars are still likely to have a strong future in spite of this – after all, there’s only so much fossil fuel to go around, and eventually, we will run out and no longer be able to fuel our petrol cars, although we wouldn’t imagine that will be for quite some time.

It’s some good food for thought, the findings of this study, although ultimately it will likely bear more relevance on environmentally-concerned car manufacturers moving forwards than it will on consumers, who are likely to still continue buying whichever cars with whichever means of propulsion that they want to.

Note: The photos used in this article have been taken from an upcoming review are for illustration purposes only due to their relevance, as well as to give you a teaser of some upcoming content. The above article is in no way a critique of this vehicle, or of any other specific battery EVs – simply, it is factual reporting, and nothing more.

Patrick Jackson
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