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Are electric vehicles actually better for the environment than their standard combustion counterparts, or do they release the same if not more amounts of harmful chemicals into the atmosphere? As more and more electric vehicles (EV) are being produced, we have to look and see if these cars are as good as they claim to be. Over each type of car’s lifetime, the amount of emissions released will ultimately answer the question of which one is better for the environment. 

When people think of electric cars, the first thing that comes to mind is the fact that they are so much better for the environment and do wonders at decreasing the amount of air pollution. While electric vehicles  may not release any tailpipe emissions, they still are producing a harmful amount of toxins during the manufacturing process. In the article, “Are Electric Cars Worse for the Environment,” author Johnathan Lesser brings up the point that “cars are charged from the nation’s electrical grid, which means that they’re only as “clean” as America’s mix of power sources.” The car still needs to get its electricity to run from somewhere, and as of right now, the only way to get it is from fossil fuels and other standard energy harvesting techniques.
Fossil fuels are the world’s biggest contributor when it comes to greenhouse gasses and other pollutants that cause climate change. These non-renewable energy sources consist mainly of coal, natural gas, and crude oil or petroleum. Since these materials are easily sourced, they are used so frequently to create electricity. In the article, “Where Does Our Electricity Come From,” this process entails burning coal and/or oil to create heat, which generates steam and powers turbines to produce electricity. These plants “generate electricity reliably over long periods of time, and are generally cheap to build.” This makes them the go-to when it comes to building electric car batteries as the get more from less time.

While there are other methods of producing electricity that do not require burning fossil fuels, these are less reliable sources of energy and often require more work for lesser pay. Meaning, they do not produce as much power in the same amount of time. Things like wind, water, and solar are all used to generate electricity, but it is mainly used to run other things, not including car batteries. 

An electric car runs solely on electricity produced from the lithium ion battery. This type of battery is the main cause of emissions released by electric vehicles. The whole process of manufacturing an EV creates an abundance of greenhouse gasses, enough to be compared to the entire lifecycle of a standard combustion engine. Sergio Manzetti claims in his article “Electric Vehicle Battery Technologies: From Present State to Future Systems,” that since electric vehicles are powered by batteries that require charging, they are constantly getting the energy from the fossil fuel production plants. While some EVs get their energy from the previously mentioned renewable energy sources, not all countries have the means to offer the consumers these sources. 

“Recent analyses show nevertheless that electric vehicles contribute to the increase in greenhouse emissions through their excessive need for power sources, particularly in countries with limited availability of renewable energy sources and result in a net contribution and increase in greenhouse emissions across the European continent.”

If countries cannot provide their electric vehicle consumers with the means of cleaner energy production and management, then those cars are no better than the standard combustion engine, the typical kind of car seen on the roads, as the same amount of emissions will be released in the cars’ lifetimes.

When looking at the lifetime amount of gasses produced, the standard combustion engines seem to be the ones that are worse for the environment. That, however, is not always the case. As mentioned before, EVs run off of batteries. Batteries that require energy to be produced. Energy that comes from burning fossil fuels. This makes them no better than their gas powered counterparts. The amount of energy needed to make a lithium ion battery will be increasing higher than the production of a gas powered car, simply because of how many fossil fuels need to be burned in order to make enough energy. 

When fossil fuels are burned, they do release a lot of carbon dioxide and other gasses that affect the environment. When fossil fuels are burned and converted into energy, they release a lot more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than if the fossil fuels were just being burned and not converted into anything. Since electric vehicles run off a battery that needs charging, the process of converting fossil fuels to electricity keeps happening. This leads to more pollutants being released. While the car itself may not release any emissions, the process of obtaining the electricity is where the chemicals get released. A standard gas car does not have to convert the fossil fuels into electricity, which causes them to emit less carbon dioxide in the long run.

So yes, while the physical electric car itself may be better for the environment than a typical gas powered car is, the process of obtaining the electricity and energy needed to power the car is how the gasses get released into the air. While the standard gas car does constantly pollute the air, the same amount of carbon dioxide and other harmful gasses is getting released when you look at the lifespan of these types of vehicles. 

People can argue about the fact that electric cars are better for the environment and that may be true, it just depends on what angle you are looking at. If you make the case that since the car itself does not emit anything, then you would be right in saying it is better for the plant. But if you make the case saying that the entire process of making and maintaining an electric car emits the same amount of pollutants as the standard gas powered car, you would be right as well. 


LESSER, J., Hopkinson, J., Allen, A., Diamond, D., Samuelsohn, D., Grunwald, M., Cassella, M., Demko, P., LeVine, M., Scola, N., Pradhan, R., Snider, A., Temple, P., Boudreau, C., & Schreckinger, B. (2018, May 15). Are electric cars worse for the environment? Politico. Retrieved October 17, 2022, from

Manzetti, S. (2015, November). Electric vehicle battery technologies: From present state to future systems. ScienceDirect. Retrieved October 17, 2022, from

Where does our electricity come from? (n.d.). World Nuclear Association. Retrieved October 17, 2022, from

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