Electric vehicle and CO2 emissions

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Earth is surrounded by gases that trap heat from the sun and warm the earth. This is called the GreenHouse Effect. One of the most common greenhouse gases is the Carbon dioxide (CO2). The concentration of greenhouse gases and especially CO2 dramatically increased due to human activity since 1950 (beginning of industry). As a result, average temperature on Earth increases. This phenomenon is known as Global Warming (0.7°C since 1950). Transportation is not the largest CO2 contributor but is still significant. CO2 emission are a major concern for governments. All industry including automotive is involved in a global effort for reducing CO2. In order to reach Neutral Carbon emission by 2050, automotive industry is moving from Thermal engine to Electric Vehicle (EV).

An electric vehicle does not emit greenhouse gas from the tailpipe but CO2 emissions are created during the manufacturing process and the charging of the vehicle. Compared to a Thermal vehicle, the energy required for battery production is higher. An electric vehicle is therefore starting with a disadvantage in terms of CO2 footprint but improves as the user drives it.

EV Battery production:

Extraction and refining of the raw material are often made in countries using fossil energy with a relatively high and constant impact on CO2 emission from minimum 50% to up to 90%! Improving and legislating on the mining process offers a huge potential for reducing the EV CO2 footprint as well as other environmental (water toxicity) or ethic (child labor) impacts.

Average impact of extraction and refining - Source: https://www.transportenvironment.org/discover/how-clean-are-electric-cars/

The manufacturing of battery cell impact mainly depends on the battery size and how the energy for manufacturing is produced. If you produce a battery with electricity generated by coal, the battery production has a high impact, this impact is higher if the batterie capacity increases. In countries where renewal electricity is used, the impact is significantly lower.

Average CO2 footprint based on energy mix in Europe (36% fossil) - Source: Ademe

CO2 footprint compensation:

To compensate the CO2 footprint due to the energy required for manufacturing the battery, the vehicle needs to be driven … The amount of kilometer necessary to balance this disadvantage depends on the vehicle weight and where the electricity is produced.

In the worst-case scenario, an electric car with a battery produced and driven with fossil energy needs 100 000 km to compensate the CO2 footprint but emits 37% less CO2 than petrol after 200 000 km. In the best-case scenario, the benefits of electric car with a small battery produced and driven with renewable energy is nearly immediate.

Note on Recycling and durability

It is difficult to find studies on recycling of the battery and the impact on the environment (waste, pollution, etc.) and is usually not taken into consideration in the global CO2 footprint. Today, the amount of EV batteries that have reached the recycling stage is very small and is only available in pilot projects. Re-cycling (re-use of battery) gives a further possibility to improve the CO2 footprint.

Most electric vehicle batteries have an estimated 1500 to 2000 charge cycles which leads in theory to up to 400 000km battery life-time. The issue is that battery capacity loose up to 25% of their capacity before 85 000 km, this can be even more if fast charging is regularly used (heat generated cause higher degradation). The user may therefore be tempted to change the vehicle or the battery limiting the CO2 footprint (as stated before it depends how many kilometers is driven).


Electric Vehicle is one of the key technologies to decarbonize the transportation industry. The CO2 footprint reduction is obvious if a battery for a small vehicle is produced and recharged with “Clean” electricity, less if a large battery is produced and used in an area with fossil energy (EV may even produce more CO2 if not driven). Efforts on the raw material extraction, manufacturing process, energy production, vehicle battery size, recycling, etc. seem therefore necessary to achieve a better and more transparent CO2 footprint reduction. Reducing the amount of vehicle and optimize their usage (car-sharing), privilege public transportation for daily-trips are other solutions that shall be considered to accompany the car industry in the global transportation carbon footprint reduction effort.

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