What is the Carbon Footprint of the Electric Car? | Stuff You Should Know



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All-electric cars have zero emissions at the tailpipe, but that’s not the only place in their life cycle where these green cars can launch greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. Josh and Chuck get down to the surprising brass tacks to figure out just how environmentally friendly electric cars really are.

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37 thoughts on “What is the Carbon Footprint of the Electric Car? | Stuff You Should Know

  1. That was a laughibly misleading video. Ho-ho. For example: Why is the manufacturing percentage of overall CO2 emissions for an EV much higher? Not for any exotic reason of mining [how about drilling/processing/storing/transporting of all that fossil fuel?], but because the overall total is much lower. And if you power your EV by only solar, wind or hydro-electricity, it is 100% of the total. [facepalm].

  2. What about mining the raw materials is toxic in of itself . Your home is hook up to a power grid . which needs nuclear power or coal …. The battery in the car will be less effective after 5 years …

  3. Wow. That was a lot of talking for not actually answering the question. :/ The percentage of manufacturing emissions thing doesn't make any sense. How are you comparing those two numbers after you just said electric cars have 0 tailpipe emissions. Of course their percentage of manufacturing emissions is going to be higher. That's how percentages work. Also, where did the percentange of carbon emissions number come from if there's no total number of emissions? This video has holes in it big enough to drive an electric car through.

  4. Does the car come with solar panels, a windmill or river to charge it? Use an electric car that more than likely uses electric generated at a coal fired power plant? 65% of all electric produced in the US comes from coal, dirty nasty coal. You want to save the environment ride a bicycle. Your emissions are not at the tailpipe, they are coming out those big stacks at the power plant, where they manufacture the batteries and all that nice plastic. I like to see all you environmentalist take a big suck on the stacks where they make the batteries and produce the electric.
    Nuclear energy is the one and only solution at this time that would meet the world's demand for energy and future needs. If they would stop putting power plants on fault lines, flood zones and use the latest redundancies there would be no issues. No cutting corners, no Harry Reid political games.

  5. It is a lot about the tail pipe. This local pollution is the main cause of health affects on people. Soot, NO2, local CO2, CO etc… are harmful to people locally. Manufacturing and the power plant have emissions true, but its not local and easier for the body to tolerate. Not saying electric cars are the Savior right now, but as they improve and our power infrastructure improves it will tip the scales hugely in favor of electric cars over gas powered cars.

  6. These morons, as expected, are only capable of Popular Culture checkout counter-ish catch phrase . . . like "gas guzzling."  That moron should look in the mirror and recognize that he is a "food guzzler."  But the clown to his right uses the all mighty trash street talk: "carbon dioxide,"  and the associated CRAP about "carbon footprint," and "carbon emissions."  There is no such thing as "carbon emissions."  There is CO and CO2 from combusting hydrocarbon and carbon fuels, these are molecular gases, NOT atomic carbon.  The former is dangerous but reduces, and the latter grows green plants.  Ok checkout counter morons?  So save that trendy crap talk for your encounter groups. Let's get this straight…CO2 has never and will never drive climate.  So please get your heads out of your methane belching lower posteriors.  (We don't have time for the "detail" [Ahem!!] that the sources of electrical energy is still predominantly, as these idiots call it, "fossil fuels."  Of course, there is no such thing…but what can one expect form the checkout counter types?)  Yes, electrics are coming, but you two and your ilk won't steer any of it.  Get a life already.

  7. -If EVs are indeed better, then sure, let them stand on their own.

    -Stop taking government(taxpayer) money to supplement EVs.(Development/Manufacture/Consumer)
    -EVs in California are allowed to use carpool lanes on the highways, even when it's only the driver on board.
    -Gasoline and Diesel consumption is taxed and this pays for the roads everyone drives on.

  8. They mentioned that 39% of an EV's carbon footprint is from manufacturing, vs a traditional vehicle's 12-20%. But that comparison is really only valid if both carbon footprints from each vehicle type is exactly the same. But are they? They never mentioned that.

  9. 4:42 you guys completely forgot to mention that gasoline doesn't magically appear at the pump either. It has to be drilled for, refined and transported overseas (most likely) and into your local gas station to even use it.

    Where is the carbon footprint for that?

  10. Try this argument on for size…How much more CO2 will I generate in the pursuit of making the extra $$$ required to cover the cost of an electric car? Even if there's a subsidy, that means the price of the car and the additional taxes going forward will be greater! This means that the dollar that I earned last week will purchase less in the pursuit of having something that over its lifetime will MAYBE have a cost savings if I'm very fortunate. Electric prices will continue to rise over the next couple of years and that further cuts into the incentive for purchasing an electric car. When it comes to electrical generation, the more "renewable" the source of electricity is, it becomes increasingly expensive to have installed generation capacity and even more so when the limited number of places to build a practical generating station are considered. The farther you are from a major generating station, the greater the transmission losses become.

  11. also lithium batteries don't last forever, 500-1000 charge cycles and they start degrading just like the battery in your cellphone. No way it will last even close to 12 years.

  12. Percentage of lifetime emissions that's from manufacturing? Percentage means nothing in this case and is very misleading. Raw numbers would make sense. Statistics 101. FYI since I didn't see the figure mentioned, or missed it, about 70% of electricity in the US is from fossil fuel (coal and natural gas). That's what your electric car is really burning.

  13. YOu guys sound like a bunch of teenagers shooting the breeze in your basement after a sixpack of beer…  You have no qualification to talk on this subject….

  14. Right, I'm going to clarify some points this video didn't even consider, and I'd appreciate any thumbs up to bring it tot the top so people can see it:

    1. People are foolishly assuming that EV's won't get any better. Was Rome built in a day? No. It's early days yet. If you're going to make foolish statements like EV's won't ever take off due to limited range or battery longevity, you're essentially making the assumption that the technology will remain stagnant indefinitely. Extremely unlikely.

    2. An EV powered by coal is still less polluting than a combustion-engined car. Economies of scale. The typical coal plant is more efficient than a typical combustion engine, and since power plants tend to be located AWAY from population centers, this offsets fumes away from busy populaces. Even factoring in transmission losses, this remains the case. One centralised point of generation is more efficient than tens of thousands of smaller roaming engines.

    3. Expanding on point #2. An EV has no tailpipe; fumes are offset away from busy city centres. This is a particularly important point as thousands of people die every year because of particulate pollution in cities. Even if EV's were on a parity of a combustion engine for pollution (which they aren't), simply displacing fumes away from the areas we live our daily lives will work wonders for public health.

    4. Where does fuel for a regular car come from? Thin air? No! Refining fuel takes TREMENDOUS amounts of energy – so much that most refineries have their own private feed from the local power station! Bet you didn't know your average oil refinery uses enough electricity to power over 250,000 homes – the whole of Coventry and Leicester combined! I didn't even count the environmental impact of drilling, pumping and transporting oil. Fact is, everything we make in life has a carbon cost, so why do people argue as if EV's are somehow unique in this regard, when they're not? Mining lithium in Chile suddenly doesn't seem so bad in comparison. (Incidentally, refineries like to keep quiet about how much power they're using!)

    5. Battery life is a valid point, but I should point out all the major EV manufacturers specifically use batteries that are highly recyclable – over 90% in most cases. Once an EV battery has passed its prime, it can be re-purposed. In essence if you break it down you end up with thousands of normal battery cells. A prime example of re-purposing would be home energy storage. We can think of ways. Batteries for mass-storage will become more popular as time goes by. The typical load of, say, a home, is so much lower on the battery compared to the car, that an old battery can easily handle it safely.

    6. Transmission losses: I see this brought up a lot. Typical power line transmission losses are – entire process included – around 16%. The video talks about sockets; laughable: socket losses are miniscule. Net result: Still 3-4x more efficient than a combustion engine.

    7. Coal power: Dirty. However, coal is also being rapidly phased out in many developed countries. Case and point: USA. Natural gas is now more cost-efficient than coal in many states, which are now switching over. Point I'm trying to make is simple: Power grids are becoming cleaner, and this rate will increase over time.

    8. Expanding on point #7: Solar panel users can "one-two combo" EV's with solar panels and essentially drive on their own power, never paying for "fuel" again.

    9. Manufacturing vs. running emissions: Yes, EV's are more harmful to manufacture than a regular car – but ONLY because of the battery at present. All electric cars use Induction AC motors which contain zero heavy metals or rare earths. With this in mind, it's important to consider that throughout its running life the EV can EASILY surpass its manufacturing offset AND THEN SOME. Again, I also refer you to point #5. These batteries aren't just made, used in the car, then discarded. That would be shockingly wasteful.

    Say what you want, deny what you want. Believe videos like this if you want. Or take it from those of us who actually HAVE spent hours of our sad lives researching things like this and taking a personal interest in what's going on. EV's are the way to go; they're leaps ahead of hydrogen fuel cells. We won't get there overnight; hybrids will be the stop-gap. They may not be mass market ready yet, but they WILL be within the next decade. I guarantee it. The gigafactory is the next major step; it'll cut costs significantly.

  15. But, it is much easier to regulate one great big tailpipe than it is to try and keep track of 1 million tailpipes all over the city.  Furthermore, the price your paying for electricity is nearly Half of what we pay for Gasoline.

  16. I can't believe that in the XXI century there are still dumb people that believe that an electric car isn't a good alternative to gas combustion! A gas combustion engine has 30% energy efficiency. That's like stone age technology!
    Ans everybody seems to forget the several processes which crude has to pass through until it becomes gas Also they are forgeting the huge storage and distribution network in order to it reach your gas station. Just imagine how many trucks on the road producing CO2 it represents!

  17. They forgot to mention that electric vehicles has significantly less range in cold climate.. oil get ticker, bearing has more resistance and the surface is less smooth, and your car may even have to plow through several inches off snow. Plus you need heat to keep your car warm and the Windows free from ice.

    Petrol cars always has the heat energy to get everything running smoothly. Even tough the first minutes isn't optimal. Electric cars also has a limited lifetime of the battery. You need to drive a lot for it to become environmentally friendly. If you barely drive at all a small petrol car has less emissions. Because the battery will need to be replaced when it gets old. No matter how little the car is used. Where's an old pertrol engine that's barely used is often top condition, and only needs minor service.

  18. Something else I thought I would add in .

    The guys are talking about the CO2 emissions from the electricity generated to run the electric car. However what about the electricity that is used to drill for the oil,transport the oil, refine the oil, store the oil and then deliver the oil ? and then the emissions from directly burning the fuel…

  19. Carbon footprint doesn't matter. Where's the money going? As long as the money used to power the car is staying away from marginally friendly Arab countries, sign me up.

  20. Josh and Chuck get down to the surprising brass tacks to figure out just how environmentally friendly electric cars really are in this +Stuff You Should Know – HowStuffWorks episode.

  21. I love my hybrid car – I can't imagine ever getting a regular ol' gas guzzler again. I burn about 1500 fewer liters of fuel per year than I did with my last vehicle. There's a certain "feel good" that goes with that – an unexpected bonus to my purchase.

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