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Environmental comparison of electric vehicles vs vehicles fuelled by petrol, diesel, natural gas, biodiesel, bioethanol and biogas

Environmental comparison of electric vehicles vs vehicles fuelled by petrol, diesel, natural gas, biodiesel, bioethanol and biogas

how sustainable is…

This study compares the environmental impact of vehicles using different types of fuel:

and different types of engines:

The study covers 13 different environmental impact categories.

Essentially, the study concludes that there is not a simple answer. In other words, it does not suggest that switching from fossil fuelled vehicles to electric vehicles necessarily reduces the impact on the environment.

One simple factor is the origin of the electricity with which the battery of the electric vehicle is being charged. If the electricity is generated by coal fired power stations, then the use of an electric vehicle actually has a greater impact on the environment than the use of a vehicle with a conventional (combustion) engine using fossil fuel – for most of the environmental impact categories considered. However, even when it is assumed that the battery of the electric vehicle is being charged with electricity from a renewable source, such as hydro power or solar power, the electric vehicle is still having a greater impact on the environment in a few environmental impact categories, than a vehicle using fossil fuels. This is due to the environmental impact associated with the battery. That said, it should be noted that the study does suggest that an electric vehicle with a battery which is being charged from renewable energy has a lower environmental impact across the majority of the environmental impact categories considered.

Link to full report (note: this report is written in German)

While we make every effort to be accurate, we do not claim that this summary is representative. Please refer to our Legal Disclaimer for details.

what can I do to reduce my environmental footprint?

While the study suggests that it is not possible to make a simple recommendation with regards to the best type of fuel or engine to use, as it depends too much on your particular situation, it highlights that “individual mobility” (i.e cars) has an impact on the environment, which is difficult to reduce. While the study did not consider this, it seems clear that if you want to reduce your impact on the environment, the surest way to do this is to avoid using a car altogether, regardless of the type of car, and switch to other modes of transport such as walking, cycling or using public transport such as the bus or train.

Report Rating: 3 out of 3

Report Published: October 2010

Country: Switzerland

Author(s): H. J. Althaus, M. Gauch

Publisher: Life Cycle Assessment and Modelling Group, Technologie und Gesellschaft, Empa

Funder: Axpo Holding AG

Keywords: life cycle analysis, LCA, cradle to grave analysis, environmental footprint, electric vehicle, plug-in-hybrid, hybrid, car, internal combustion engine (ICE), fuel, natural gas, biogas, Kompogas, palm methyl ester (PME), ethanol, E85, car, mobility, travel, drive, electricity, power, motor, transport

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