How green are electric vehicles really?

The production of electric vehicles has been heralded as a solution to help mitigate the consequences of climate change.

COP26 agreed a joint declaration to accelerate the transition to 100% zero emission cars and vans; with good reason as road transport contributes to over 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions.  Electric vehicles produce no tailpipe emissions, but this doesn’t paint the full picture. Well-to-wheel emissions are needed to provide a more comprehensive overview of the environmental costs of an electric vehicle. Well-to-wheel emissions looks at all emissions relating to fuel production, processing, distribution and use.  The importance of these emissions are more noticeable in regions where most of their electricity is derived from fossil fuels.

Take West Virginia, where on average an all-electric vehicle will produce just over 9000 pounds of CO2. Whilst the US average on an all-electric vehicle is 3900 pounds of CO2. The reasoning behind this is that 90% of electricity in West Virginia comes from coal whilst the national average is 21.90% This shows the importance of low-carbon emission solutions in the energy mix to derive more benefits from the use of electric vehicles. That’s not to say that electric vehicles are redundant in areas where electricity is mainly derived from fossil fuels. Even in the case of West Virginia; the wheel-to-wheel emissions of gasoline vehicles was still far higher than electric vehicles. Unfortunately, there is no perfect measure as wheel-to-wheel emissions do not take into account the cost of raw materials such as cobalt and lithium which are required in greater amounts in electric vehicles. However, it does paint a more complete picture than generic measures which focus purely on the point that an electric vehicle does not itself directly produce tailpipe emissions.

However, some studies have shown that producing an electric vehicle can create more carbon emissions than an ordinary ICE vehicle because of the energy required to manufacture the battery of an electric vehicle. In one example, researchers at Argonne National Laboratory noted that the emissions from EV manufacturing (extracting materials, manufacturing, battery production and vehicle assembly) and end-of-life disposal or recycling are higher than those produced by ICE vehicles. Nevertheless, over the lifetime of a vehicle the total carbon emissions associated with manufacturing, charging and driving an electric vehicle tends to be lower than those produced by an ICE vehicle due to the low tailpipe emissions.

In conclusion, although electric vehicles do have environmental costs associated with them, the merits of them will improve overtime with the following remedies which will come from innovation:

  • Lower emissions from imports as recycling efficiency improves, enabling raw materials such as lithium/nickel to be recycled locally and reused in order to make new batteries
  • Less raw materials will be needed for batteries overtime with technological advancements

How can businesses increase uptake of electric vehicles?

To ensure electric vehicles get to the end-user and remain a palatable alternative; businesses need to prioritise the following:

  • Supplier relationship management to drive innovative partnerships with suppliers
  • Mitigate rising costs to reduce the burden on cost-sensitive consumers
  • Ensure security of supply and supply chain resilience to ensure goods get to the end consumer
  • Increase control of the supply chain through better visibility and planning
  • Shorten supply chains
  • Supply chain rationalization / diversification depending on the state of the supply chain

We can help organisations to navigate the complexities of automotive supply chain. Our team at 4C Associates combines extensive knowledge and experience with the latest process and technology innovations to provide our clients with transformative solutions and sustainable commercial outcomes. Please contact Gopal Iyer, Head of Supply Chain Practice at 4C Associates at  if you would like to understand more about how we can help you to manage costs and to improve your supply chain’s resilience.

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