Fact Check: Do emissions from making electric cars mean they are not ‘green’?

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POSTS ON SOCIAL media person argued that electrical vehicles are a “con”, arsenic determination are important greenhouse state emissions released during their construction. While determination are ecological costs to gathering electrical vehicles, galore analyses find that they are importantly amended for the situation than petrol oregon diesel cars.

An representation which was shared much than 14,000 times on Facebook shows a photograph of a heavy, earth-moving conveyance with text: “It Burns ~1000 liters of substance successful 12 hours. Moving ~250 tons of ungraded to extract materials to nutrient ONE Tesla battery.

“And radical inactive telephone it ‘zero emissions’ erstwhile they thrust their eletrical car “ [sic]

Despite the post’s layout implying the 3 statements are neatly connected, it’s not wide these statements are linked.

For example, portion it appears to connote that it takes astir 12 hours for the instrumentality pictured – the Caterpillar 994K – to displace 250 tons of dirt, this is precise unlikely.

The digger is capable to assistance up to 42-60 tons of worldly astatine a time, truthful should beryllium capable to determination 250 tons of ungraded successful astir six scoops. Demonstration videos of the conveyance amusement this should lone instrumentality a fewer minutes.

It is besides unclear wherefore it’s implied the magnitude of emissions released earlier the operation of a car should impact whether “zero emissions” are released erstwhile it is being driven. Fully electrical vehicles person nary tailpipe emissions.

However, contempt this, the station raises valid questions: How overmuch emissions are released obtaining the materials and constructing afloat electrical vehicles, and does driving electrical cars emit immoderate pollution?


Electric conveyance batteries person been criticised for the biology interaction of manufacturing them, successful peculiar the mining of materials specified arsenic lithium and cobalt.

This disapproval is often dispersed by clime alteration denial groups with connections to the fossil fuel industry

However, determination are existent environmental costs to producing these batteries, including emissions, h2o use, contaminating the adjacent situation with toxic discarded and imaginable enactment for quality rights abuses – though the aforesaid is often said of the fossil substance industry.

Tesla, the shaper mentioned successful the Facebook posts, uses a mix of lithium ion batteries for their vehicles. 

A 2018 estimate enactment the CO2 outgo of Lithium-ion batteries astatine astir 73kg of CO2 equivalents per kWh of battery, which is besides wrong the scope of estimates fixed by a Swedish Energy Agency study

The estimation was based connected information from a premix of countries, including ones wherever manufacturing would person a higher biology cost. Although Tesla claims to beryllium peculiarly green, they proceed to manufacture successful countries specified arsenic China.

So, applying that estimation to a 100kWh Tesla exemplary S car battery  – (most electrical car batteries are much smaller than this) –would merchandise the equivalent of astir 7,300 kg of CO2.

This 7,300 kg of CO2 is astir the aforesaid magnitude released by burning 3,050 litres of petrol, oregon astir two-and-a-half year’s worthy for Irish drivers, an estimation derived from 2022 figures provided by the AA.

So, if we were to relationship for conscionable the artillery alone, we mightiness say: a petrol-powered car has a little archetypal biology outgo than a battery-powered vehicle, but owed to substance emissions, this breaks adjacent sometime aft 2 years, and thereafter causes much harm to the environment.

Scientific estimates

However, the figures supra are massively simplified. They don’t instrumentality into relationship the sizeable amounts of emissions released successful drilling, refining and transporting substance specified arsenic petrol earlier it is enactment into a car.

Nor bash they see different differences successful however electrical cars and fuel-powered cars are built.

Nor bash they instrumentality into relationship the c outgo of the vigor utilized to powerfulness electrical cars taken from the electrical grid.

While afloat electrical vehicles do not merchandise tailpipe emissions, that does not mean that driving them is c neutral. The cars inactive necessitate energy; truthful however environmentally affable recharging a car is depends connected however cleanable the section energy grid is.

Tesla claims that adjacent erstwhile 1 of their cars is recharged from the grid successful China, it volition person importantly little lifecycle emissions than a car utilizing an interior combustion engine. In Europe, they assertion Tesla beingness emissions would beryllium little than a 3rd that of fuel-powered cars. 

However, Tesla has been criticised for not publishing capable accusation astir their biology impacts, and their investigation doesn’t relationship for “Scope 3” emissions, which could see materials bought from a supplier.

One analysis showed that successful countries that make a batch of energy with coal, electrical vehicles whitethorn person small payment implicit vehicles that pain fuel.

However, estimates provided from world and authorities sources recovered that, adjacent erstwhile the contamination caused by energy accumulation utilized to recharge these cars is taken into account, electrical vehicles massively outperform accepted vehicles. 

A MIT study of 125 vehicles, showed that portion manufacturing electrical vehicles tends to merchandise a higher magnitude of greenhouse gases than manufacturing petrol oregon diesel vehicles, this is dwarfed by the emissions caused by driving implicit the beingness of the vehicles. 

“Even the dirtiest batteries emit little CO2 than utilizing nary artillery astatine all,” an overview of the assemblage by the MIT Climate Portal updated successful October 2022 said. 

Reuters analysis in July recovered a Tesla Model 3 charged utilizing the mean United States vigor premix would to interruption adjacent with a comparable substance powered car aft being driven astir 21,725 kilometers.

Multiple other studies besides back up claims that the usage of electrical vehicles dramatically reduces CO2 emissions compared to state powered vehicles.

Researchers besides note the biology outgo of manufacturing batteries for electrical vehicles is expected to reduce and that, arsenic a state switches to cleaner vigor sources, truthful excessively bash the benefits of driving an electrical conveyance increase.


So, fixed Ireland’s premix of vigor sources, however agelong should it instrumentality for an electrical car to go amended for the situation than a car with an interior combustion engine?

A 2022 study that takes Ireland’s energy premix into relationship (which is adjacent to the EU average), finds that electrical cars successful Ireland emit little than a 3rd of the CO2 that petrol cars do. Depending connected wherever the car and artillery are produced, petrol and electrical cars interruption adjacent astatine astir 20,000 km, aft which the electrical vehicles are amended for the environment.

Irish backstage cars travelled, connected average, 16,352 km successful 2019, the latest year without COVID restrictions that figures are disposable for. Taxis, hackneys and limousines travelled an mean of astir 40,000 km that year, according to the Central Statistics Office.

This means that an electrical conveyance successful dense usage whitethorn go c neutral wrong the archetypal twelvemonth of being driven.

Other pollutants

However, determination are emissions different than greenhouse gases that should beryllium considered.

While afloat electrical vehicles don’t nutrient tailpipe emissions, they inactive nutrient postulation aerial contamination from tyre and brake wear, which immoderate studies amusement marque up astir of the “primary particulate matter” from cars that lucifer EU exhaust emissions standards.

Given that immoderate electrical cars – specified arsenic Tesla models – are heavy, they whitethorn emit much of these pollutants than light, petrol-powered cars.

Traffic contamination has been linked to respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, arsenic good arsenic allergic conditions .

An Oireachtas committee was told past twelvemonth that “a correlation betwixt postulation produced aerial contamination and changeable admissions” had been demonstrated successful Ireland. 

“All cars, including electrical propelled cars, produced particulate substance from different sources specified arsenic tyre deterioration and brake pads.” Dr Colm Byrne, from the Irish Doctors for the Environment and advisor geriatrician astatine the Mater Hospital successful Dublin, told the committee.

As such, portion electrical vehicles are, implicit their mean lifetimes, amended for the situation than fossil fuel-powered cars, this is lone existent erstwhile they are driven capable to offset other emissions released during their manufacture.

And portion they bash not merchandise tailpipe emissions, they bash merchandise particulate substance from their wheels and brakes, which are believed to person important antagonistic wellness effects.

With reporting from the PA

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