A frequent argument is that these electric cars would emit as much greenhouse gas as thermal cars, because the electricity they use is itself produced by power stations using fossil fuels such as coal.
But according to the US Environmental Protection Agency, an electric car charged in St. Louis, Missouri – one of the states most dependent on coal for electricity – produces an average of 247 grams of carbon dioxide (CO2 ) per mile (i.e. approximately 154 grams per kilometer), compared to 381 grams for a thermal vehicle.
The carbon footprint of an electric car depends on the region or country where it was recharged: it is higher in countries such as Poland or Asian countries, which produce a large part of their electricity from coal, than in France, where it depends overwhelmingly on nuclear power.
And when we take into account the entire life cycle, including the production of raw materials for batteries and going all the way to end-of-life recycling, internal combustion cars still emit far more C02 than electric cars, a concluded the expert organization International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) in a thick study.
Dirty mining extraction
Battery manufacturing is an energy-intensive process, because some components are mined and raw materials must be transported around the world for assembly and sale. Recycling them is expensive.
According to a widely shared post on Facebook, it would take 227 tons of earth to be dug to extract the metals needed for a single electric car battery. This estimate appears to come from an analysis published in 2020 by the Manhattan Institute, a climate-skeptical research group.
However, according to several experts, these figures are misleading. “That’s a gross exaggeration,” said Peter Newman, professor of sustainability at Curtin University, Australia. According to him, it all depends on the region of exploration and the type of battery.
Mining has other negative impacts: 70% of cobalt, one of the components of batteries, comes for example from the Democratic Republic of Congo, where children are exploited in the mines. Access to components also poses strategic supply issues, many of which come from China, according to the International Energy Agency.
However, oil drilling, with its significant environmental impact, is not a better solution according to Georg Bieker, researcher at the ICCT.
“In any case, it is clear that the social and environmental impact of global warming is catastrophic and far greater in scale than that of mining for batteries,” Bieker argues.
The risk of getting “stuck in the snow”
After a snowstorm in Virginia, USA, in January, people shared posts on Facebook claiming electric cars were at risk of breaking down in traffic, leaving passengers stranded without heating inside and lengthening again the lines of cars. Several fact-checking organizations have sought to verify this claim and have found no evidence for these claims.
The question of the overconsumption of electric cars when it’s cold is debated among experts, with some claiming that internal combustion cars ultimately consume more because they have to keep the engine running to run the heating.
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