How much pollution does an electric car produce?

The switch to electric mobility is the best option to reduce CO2 emissions from transport, but do electric cars cause pollution? Here is an analysis of the full life cycle of these vehicles.

Carga coche eléctrico.

Does an electric car cause pollution? To answer this and find out whether electric vehicles are more environmentally friendly than petrol or diesel vehicles, we need to look closely at their full life cycle. The production of an electric car causes more pollution than that for a conventional vehicle, especially with regard to the manufacture of batteries.

However, over its useful life, this is offset by the absence of emissions. Currently, according to the Institute for Diversification and Energy Saving (IDAE in Spanish), 1,000 electric cars correspond to the non-emission of 30,000 kilos of polluting gases and 2 tons of CO2 per year.

To give us an idea, a new combustion-engine car, and one of the most efficient, emits an average of 120 grams of CO2 per kilometre travelled. This translates into one tonne of CO2 emissions per year.

With the current energy mix for electricity production in Spain, an electric car emits less than half (52 grCO2/km) compared to a combustion-engine car. But we are moving towards a fully renewable electricity system, so emissions corresponding to electric cars will be zero, since they will be powered by clean energy.

 

Where do your batteries go at the end of their useful life?

The battery is one of the most important parts of an electric car. It is essential for it to operate, as it is responsible for accumulating the energy transmitted to the electric motor. And depending on its components, this will determine aspects such as autonomy, charging speed, weight, design and price.

Lithium batteries are not the only option but they are the most used today. They do not have a memory effect and allow a greater number of recharges, so they usually have a better performance. But, like any other battery, they deteriorate with time. According to a number of studies, after travelling more than 150,000 kilometres, their capacity can be reduced by 8%. They also usually last a minimum of 8 years.

“With the current energy mix for electricity production in Spain, an electric car emits less than half (52 grCO2/km) compared to a combustion-engine car”.

The good thing about these batteries is that, even if at some point they can no longer be used, we can give them a new useful life. In application of the criteria for a circular economy, for example, Endesa has developed a storage system at its plant in Melilla that uses the batteries of electric vehicles as an energy source.

Even though the recycling of lithium batteries is one of the great challenges facing the electric vehicle, it is not impossible. In fact, we are going to build the first electric vehicle battery recycling plant in the Iberian Peninsula. It will be built in Cubillos del Sil, in the province of León, at the end of 2023, and will have the capacity for the annual processing of 8,000 tons of electric batteries.

It is clear that there is still a long way to go. But electric cars are undoubtedly presented as a real and affordable solution for the decarbonisation of mobility. 

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