Are Electric Cars Really the Greenest Option?

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Did you know that transportation is the second largest contributor to our carbon footprint? But for those who don’t live in a large city, sustainable commuting can be challenging. Here’s how to do your part and choose a “greener” vehicle.

You do your best to live a more sustainable lifestyle. You recycle, eat organic when you can, and bring your own reusable shopping bags to the grocery store. But what about the car you drive?

Transportation is one of the greatest contributors to environmental pollution, and also uses tons of non-renewable resources every day. For example, just leaving your car at home two days a week can reduce your carbon emissions by over 3,000 pounds a year!

Public transit, walking, or riding a bike to get where you need to go are great options if you live in New York City or San Francisco, but what if your city or town isn’t exactly pedestrian-friendly? In that case, the best way to minimize your carbon footprint is with a more efficient (and less polluting) vehicle.

Here are some options:

Electric Vehicles

Electric Vehicles (EVs) are powered with a plug-in electric battery motor. Simply put, EV motors are more efficient at turning electrical energy into movement than petroleum motors are at doing the same with  gasoline. That efficiency translates to zero tailpipe emissions!

Think purchasing an EV is going to break the bank? Think again. These eco-friendly cars are becoming more affordable as technology advances and popularity rises…. The real advantage of EVs is their fuel economy. A Toyota Corolla costs 11.9c/mile while the electric Nissan Leaf costs a mere 3.5c/mile. Even more economical if you charge your EV from a solar-powered home!

Just like any vehicle, an EV does have its drawbacks. The average EV runs for only 40 to 100 miles on one charge, so recharges are needed often. Charging is time consuming – it may take up to 5 minutes at a gas station or up to 20 hours from a regular plug. The good news is, fast-charging stations are becoming more widespread – charging a car to 80% in less than 30 minutes. For the average commuter, who doesn’t travel more than 30 miles a day, an EV is a realistic option.

Hybrid Electric Vehicles

Hybrid Electric Vehicles (HEVs) bridge the gap between an electric vehicle and your average passenger car. They combine the best of both worlds, with an electric motor and your typical combustion engine. The electrical motor runs on electricity generated by capturing the energy from braking or by converting gasoline into an electric charge.

Benefits of HEVs include the extended range of a gasoline engine, the ability to charge the battery to drive electric, increased efficiency, and less CO2 emissions than a traditional gasoline or diesel car. An Australian study found the Toyota Prius and other experimental hybrids produced 66% less carbon dioxide than the average Australian passenger vehicle. The drawback to HEVs is tailpipe emissions are still released….

Clean Diesel Technology

Diesel and gasoline combustion engines are most commonly used in vehicles. Diesel engines boast fuel economy of more than 30%, get better mileage, and emit fewer CO2 emissions. Before you run off to purchase a vehicle with a diesel engine, remember they also emit more nitrogen oxides (NOx).  NOx helps form smog, acid rain, and particulate matter, depleting the ozone layer.

Good news: diesel technology is getting cleaner. Interest is growing in clean diesel cars that, in theory, don’t suffer from the trade-off between performance and pollution. However, the recent VW Scandal involving large scale emissions test cheating raises questions about the future of clean diesel vehicles. Rigging emissions tests for 11m cars means they may be responsible for nearly 1m tons of air pollution every year.

Are EVs the Cleanest Option?

EVs appear to be the cleanest cars, but are they really the magic solution in the fight against climate change?

EVs use electricity with its own carbon footprint. EVs have to charge up somewhere. Depending on where you live, the mix of electricity sources and its corresponding carbon footprint may vary. On average, driving an EV in the US produces about the same amount of CO2 as driving an efficient hybrid (about 325g/CO2e per mile).

EVs and hybrids also have higher manufacturing emissions than normal cars. When an electric car rolls off the production line, it’s already been responsible for 30,000 pounds of CO2 emissions. In comparison, manufacturing a conventional car creates less: about 14,000 pounds of CO2 emissions. However, most of the carbon emissions in EV production come from manufacturing Lithium batteries, which are 97% recyclable.

Despite all of the above, on average, EVs and hybrids remain a cleaner option. You can calculate the carbon footprint of your ride with our carbon calculator, here.

For more green driving tips and information – even if you’re not in the market for a new vehicle right now, check out the full article at TerraPass.com.


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