Shattering the hoax: Why electricity-powered vehicles are cleaner than gasoline and diesel powered ICE vehicles

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The argument for electricity-powered vehicles (EVs) is that they are cleaner than even the most advanced Internal Combustion Engine vehicles (ICEVs) in so many ways. Those who argue against that say that the production of the electricity is where the pollution happens and that overall, EVs pollute as much as ICEVs. But is this true? It isn’t. However you look at it, electricity-powered vehicles are cleaner and benefit the environment more. Walk with me.

Let’s lay a premise for fairness. Iif we are going to look beyond the EV itself to the energy that powers it, shouldn’t we do the same for the fossil-fuelled ICEV? We should. So, let’s look at the full production process to see if this claim that EVs pollute as much as, or more than, ICEVs.

electricity-powered vehicles are cleaner than modern gasoline and diesel vehicles, by far.
However you look at it, electricity-powered vehicles are cleaner than ICEVs.

How gasoline is produced and distributed

So what goes into producing the fuel that you burn in your car every day? Gasoline or petrol starts as oil on average 5,900 feet below the surface of the earth. A great deal of oil is extracted using what is called a pump jack. Pump jacks don’t run by themselves, in most cases they use electricity. It takes on average 9,960 kilowatt hours of electricity every month to drive one pump jack.

To put that in context, that is enough electricity to power a Tesla Model 3 for 34,860 miles. In the United States, there are an estimated 435,000 oil wells using using pump jacks. Estimated electricity use for these wells is over 4,300 gigawatt hours a month. That is a lot of electricity and that is just to get the oil out of the ground. If we used that electricity to power electric vehicles directly, it would be enough to power over 15 million electric vehicles for a month. That’s just US oil wells on land.

What about deep-sea drilling? The most common way of powering an offshore oil rig is with a diesel generator. An average oil rig generator uses 20 to 30 metric tons of diesel per day. The electrical equivalent to this is 300,000 kilowatt hours. There are an estimated 1,470 offshore oil rigs in the world using over 1.3 billion kilowatt hours of energy a month. All this oil pumping combined would be enough to power 19.5 million electric vehicles per month. This is just from the energy used to pump the oil out of the ground in the US and offshore.

So not only does the fuel pollute when we burn it in our cars, we are also using a huge amount of electricity just to pump the oil that makes the fuel. Combining the pollution from the tailpipe emissions with the emissions generated to pump the oil out of the ground is not a pretty picture.

And pumping oil is not clean. Millions of gallons are spilled into the ocean every year, causing havoc for fish and other wildlife.

Then, that oil needs to be transported. Most of the oil is pumped through pipelines. There are over 337,000 miles of pipeline in the world, carrying most of the 100 million barrels a day we consume. These pipelines use pump stations that use even more energy.

Oil is also shipped. The oceans are unregulated as regards emissions, so ships use the cheapest, dirtiest fuel possible to keep costs down, making them one of the largest pollution sources on the planet. Shipping is responsible for an estimated 1 billion tons of CO2 per year, and 10 percent of that is shipping oil. Because these tanker ships pollute so much, many countries do not allow them to operate near their coastline, so they have to be towed into port where the oil is transferred to a refinery.

Refining oil takes a huge amount of energy and generates even more pollution. Refining is done by heating oil up to 800 degrees Fahrenheit or 420 degrees centigrade. Heating 100 million barrels of oil a day to these temperatures requires an enormous amount of energy. Heating this oil generates so much pollution refineries create a serious health hazard anywhere they operate. Refineries are the number one pollution source in many major cities around the world. It is so bad that people living near these refineries have a marked increase of lung disease.

Once the oil has been refined, it is transported to fuel stations in diesel trucks, creating even more pollution. Then this fuel is burned in cars and trucks, right in our cities where we live and breathe. These cars and trucks have internal combustion engines that are extremely inefficient. 70% of the energy from burning fossil fuels is wasted as heat, while only 30% goes to turn your wheels. So after we use all that electricity, pumping oil out of the ground, refining it, transporting it, we then waste 70% when we burn it.

Fossil fuel production is an incredibly dirty, inefficient process from start to finish. When we contrast all this to powering an electric vehicle, the difference is very stark.

Contrast how electricity is produced and distributed

Electricity does not need to be pumped from thousands of feet underground, transported with trucks or trains, or pumped along pipelines. It does not need to be shipped overseas. It does not need to be refined, and it is not polluting where we live and breathe. Even if electricity is produced from burning coal, the power plant is far away from population centres, transferred over power lines keeping any direct pollution away from the population.

And if the EV is powered with clean energy, it is clean from start to finish. In the United States, 47% of electricity comes from sources that emit no CO2. In Europe it is even better at 56% and the percentage of clean energy is growing every year as coal and gas plants are being replaced by renewable energy sources.

However you look at it, electricity-powered vehicles are cleaner than gasoline or diesel powered vehicles, by a long shot.

The question of lithium in EV batteries

So what about the lithium used in EV batteries? Lithium is a metal that is mined in the deserts of Australia, China, Argentina and Chile. Besides being a key ingredient in batteries, lithium is also ingested as a medicine for bipolar disorder. Much has been made about the environmental impact of lithium mining but this is all a little bit overblown.

Australia is the largest producer of lithium in the world. If there were any major environmental problems with this mining some Australians would be talking about it. But what is Australia really talking about when it comes to pollution? Oil refining. Yes, oil refining is creating a much bigger environmental risk than all the lithium mining going on anywhere in the country. Australia is not a very densely populated country. They consume 1% of the world’s oil supply and only refine one-quarter of the oil they consume. But they mine 50% of the world’s lithium.

So a country that only refines a quarter of 1% of the world’s oil and mines 50% of the world’s lithium, the biggest contributor to pollution and risk to human health in Australia is oil refineries. That does not even take into consideration the drilling, pumping, transporting and burning of this oil. This is just refining it. The more you look into it, the argument that battery production is somehow as bad as the cycle of fossil fuels is ridiculous.

All the lithium mining in the world to date has not done anything like as much damage to the environment as just one major oil spill. So what about the batteries? What happens to EV batteries when they get old and are discarded? When no longer practical in an electric vehicle, the batteries can be used as energy storage to power a home or business, giving them a second life. And when they’re no longer any good for this, they are recycled, broken down to recover the valuable metals in these batteries to be used in the next generation of electric vehicles.

It looks a bit silly to use so much electricity to pump oil out of the ground, create tons of pollution transporting and refining it, to finally waste 70% of it burning it in our cars when we could simply use that electricity directly to power electric vehicles, eliminating the pollution from refining and burning oil in inefficient internal combustion engines. It is obvious when you look at the big picture, oil production is a dirty, wasteful process, especially when compared to the alternative, powering EVs with renewable electricity.

All those moving parts in ICEVs

Have you had a look at an internal combustion engine, vis-a-vis an electric engine? The difference is massive. ICEs have hundreds of moving parts that need replacing from time to time. An electric motor is insanely simple, by comparison, having much fewer parts that wear out and need to be replaced often.

So apart from lower direct emissions from EVs, and the source of the material for powering the vehicle, EVs are cleaner and more friendly to the environment than ICEVs are, when it comes to parts.

Electricity-powered vehicles are cleaner, by far, on the environment than ICEs

If you have read through the above, hopefully, you now see clearly how untrue it is that EVs pollute as much as, or more than, ICEVs. It simply isn’t true. There is no shred of truth to it. Fossil fuel vehicles do incredibly heavier damage to the environment that any modern EV does. Feel free to embrace electric vehicles today. You will be doing the world a lot of good.

If you are new to the subject, have a look at this article detailing the differences between EVs and ICEVs.

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By Mister Mobility

I have been tech blogging since 2003, I have owned and reviewed hundreds of smartphones since my first in 2001.

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