Every major carmaker has plans for electric vehicles to cut greenhouse gas emissions, yet their manufacturers are, by and large, making lithium-ion batteries in places with some of the most polluting grids in the world.
By 2021, capacity will exist to build batteries for more than 10 million cars running on 60 kilowatt-hour packs, according to data of Bloomberg NEF. Most supply will come from places like China, Thailand, Germany and Poland that rely on non-renewable sources like coal for electricity.
“We’re facing a bow wave of additional CO2 emissions,” said Andreas Radics, a managing partner at Munich-based automotive consultancy Berylls Strategy Advisors, which argues that for now, drivers in Germany or Poland may still be better off with an efficient diesel engine.
The findings, among the more bearish ones around, show that while electric cars are emission-free on the road, they still discharge a lot of the carbon-dioxide that conventional cars do.
Just to build each car battery—weighing upwards of 500 kilograms (1,100 pounds) in size for sport-utility vehicles—would emit up to 74 percent more C02 than producing an efficient conventional car if it’s made in a factory powered by fossil fuels in a place like Germany, according to Berylls’ findings.
Just switching to renewable energy for manufacturing would slash emissions by 65 percent, according to Transport & Environment. In Norway, where hydro-electric energy powers practically the entire grid, the Berylls study showed electric cars generate nearly 60 percent less CO2 over their lifetime, compared with even the most efficient fuel-powered vehicles.
As it is now, manufacturing an electric car pumps out “significantly” more climate-warming gases than a conventional car, which releases only 20 percent of its lifetime C02 at this stage, according to estimates of Mercedes-Benz’s electric-drive system integration department.