Electric Cars Dirtier Than Gasoline Equivalents In China

Follow Antony



Enlarge Photo
EV fans are probably sick of arguing the case for electric cars whenever someone brings up the old "well to wheels" scenario.

"Well, where does the electricity come from?" they ask. Familiar with it? Most of us have pre-prepared figures as to why EVs are cleaner, even considering the fuel burned to make the electricity.

Unless you live in China, where they really could be dirtier than running an internal combustion-engined vehicle.

As with many developing nations, the bulk of China's electricity is created by burning coal, one of the dirtiest ways of generating power. As a result, charging your electric car in China results in greater CO2 emissions than simply fuelling up a gasoline car and burning dino juice.

The figures have been calculated by La Paz-based consultancy Gruetter Consulting. Gruetter is one of the companies developing projects to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions under the United Nations' Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), producing detailed information on how much CO2 equivalent every project will save.

In India this involves a project to replace many of the dirty internal-combustion scooters with electric equivalents - 1.5 million of them over the next ten years, in fact. This should save 1.5 million tons of CO2 equivalent. In China though, this isn't possible due to the huge grid emissions. Even running an electric scooter would produce 20g/km more CO2 equivalent than a regular gasoline version.

For cars, this would be even worse, thanks to the extra energy needed to "fill" them with electricity.

It's a situation worth remembering if you live in a region where electricity production is largely coal-fuelled. EVs are generally the cleaner option and local emissions will always be lower, but outright emissions are still dictated by the power station generating your electricity...

[Environmental Finance]
Follow Us

Comments (29)
  1. CO2 isn't everything. I'd say China's most pressing problem is local pollution in the cities.

  2. But did they include the CO2 emissions from refining the gasoline? Hmm, thought not.

  3. Unfortunately it's not clear, though probably not. From nearly 100% coal power though emissions of any kind are still likely to be higher than the well-to-wheels of an equivalent vehicle.

  4. China is the ONLY country researching and building LFTRs. When they succeed (and they will, see flibe-energy.com) they will have the cleanest lowest cost electricity on the planet, and if we are lucky they may even sell us some LFTRs.

    Anti-EV proponents point out the "long tailpipe" as rational not to buy EVs, but when clean power is available it would be nice if there were already millions ready to take advantage.

  5. Electric cars will help people drive while producing zero emissions. The fact that power plants haven't come up with any permanent solutions is a different problem. And it's not like people worry about where their power comes from while their refrigerators run 24/7 or their pool circulation system runs for 6 to 8 hours a day just to keep the water blue. The fact that TVs are powered by the same coal produced power doesn't prompt people to watch less TV because they're creating carbon emissions. And how many people use candles to produce light anymore? Think about it, how many things around you right now are using electricity, think of the coal being burned.

  6. I think that a bigger and/or more immediate motivation than CO2 for the Chinese government is trying to control oil demand. They are madly searching for oil suppliers all over the world as it is, and they know where the price is going.

    I'm no fan of coal fired power plants. but at least there are some strategies for controlling/sequestering CO2 being looked at. For oil fired cars, not so much. You can make them as light and high mileage as possible but, after that, ICE = CO2 AFAIK.

  7. shouldn't the article reference the study? there's very little content in the article body.

  8. The article I sourced this story from had no link to the study itself and unfortunately, Grutter's own website (http://www.transport-ghg.com/eng/Default.htm) has no link to the study so I'm constrained by my source article.

  9. Oops, somehow I posted my reply in the wrong place instead of here.

    So you really don't know if the data is true or not. I have discovered that even very reputable consulting companies publish trash and falsehood to support what they think their employer would like to hear. I guess they get more contracts that way.

  10. What a bore. Get off the CO2 crap. You don't know squat about it anyway, now do you?

  11. I know as much as I need to about CO2, and I speak as I find. If there are any inaccuracies in the article you're welcome to correct me, though really I'd suggest taking it up with Grütter Consulting, since the information in the article is based on their study.

  12. Electric cars are the best thing we ever came out with over a hundred years ago and they are still the best thing we have ever came out with in transportation. Some people talk like we are going to be burning coal, oil, and natural gas for the rest of our time we are here on this planet. Boy! are those people in for a rude awakening...and real soon.

  13. So you really don't know if the data is true or not. I have discovered that even very reputable consulting companies publish trash and falsehood to support what they think their employer would like to hear. I guess they get more contracts that way.

  14. Even if it were true (which it really isn't) just the long tailpipe effect will greatly improve the worst air in the cities. But with the huge investments China has in renewables (wind, solar, hydro) even on a bad day, EVs are still better than gas.

  15. In China they have new efficient DC rechargers. There are 20,000,000 electric bikes and motorcycles in China, so there is a lot of recharging to do. The new high speed DC chargers are 220 volts but only 10 amps, yet they are computer controlled and a type of PWM or pulse width modulation. SO electric motorcycles are recharged in 10 minutes even at 10 amps. the old ones could not do this but the new ones do. This means that in the time it takes basically using the same energy passing through the electric transmission lines, in the west to charge 1000 electric motorcycles, in China can now charge up 60,000 electric motorcycles. Your statistical analysis companies doing your energy analysis have no idea about efficient high speed recharging.

  16. Gruetter Consulting is apparently forgetting to factor in the amount of electricity it takes to refine a gallon of gasoline. That number itself - which ranges from 6 to 12 kWh - is equivalent to an electric car going 30 miles or more. So forget all the other well to wheel calculations. You use as much energy to refine the gallon of gasoline as the electric car uses to drive the distance that gallon might take you. Therefore the gasoline car actually pollutes twice the amount the electric car would.

  17. I'm still curious to know more about the methodology because some study in the US was saying that if the recharge happen at night, the utilities was able to provide electricity that may be lost anyway. Since that a coal plant can't stop burning coal right after the demand peak in the evening, this lost power could than be used to recharge electric vehicule. I'm wondering if they included this in the calculation.

  18. A large study was done by BMW around the world and if we want to reduce the CO² emissions we need to use renewable energy or nuclear (with all the problems it generate).
    We (earth people) need to reverse the power of the persons who make the sun and the rain.
    I know I am quite idealist but it could be real if we want to. We are more than them.

  19. Comparing an EV to what kind of gas burning vehicle?
    Talking CO2 only, some simple figures : burning gasoline produces 2421 grams (5.4 pounds) of CO2.
    Coal produces 2 pounds CO2 per kilowatthour, while the national average for electricity is a little
    over 1 pound. Let's assume a Chevy Volt achieves 40 miles on 8 kWhrs of power available to the motor(it doesn't really do that well). But that requires a production at the generating plant of almost 11 kilowatthours, after paying for losses incurred in the transmission and for the 25% loss due to battery storage inefficiencies. For 50 mile jaunt the Prius generates 5.4 pounds CO2, the Volt 22 pounds(coal plants),or 11 pounds(avg gen plant) or 6 pounds (in state with lowest co2 gen plants).

  20. Ramon: The 2007 EPRI-NRDC study, which you can find online, looked quite extensively at U.S. data for wells-to-wheels carbon per mile driven. It concluded that 1 mile driven on grid electricity was always lower on carbon compared to a 25-mpg vehicle, even if recharged on the dirtiest grid in the nation (N. Dakota, IIRC). If you up the comparison to a 50-mpg Prius, then for a handful of the dirtier grids, it's slightly lower-carbon to burn the gasoline than to drive the mile on grid power. However (a) the U.S. average is now 20 to 25 mpg, and will rise only very slowly, so until the U.S. fleet average is 50 mpg, electricity is better; and ... CONTINUED BELOW


    (b) California, which will buy the bulk of early electric cars, has a much cleaner grid than average, so to get to carbon equivalence there, you have to compare to something like a 100-mpg gasoline car.

    EPRI-NRDC press release here:

    EPRI-NRDC study here (Vol 1):

    (Vol 2): http://my.epri.com/portal/server.pt?space=CommunityPage&cached=true&parentname=ObjMgr&parentid=2&co

  22. Sorry, correct link for Vol 2: http://my.epri.com/portal/server.pt?space=CommunityPage&cached=true&parentname=ObjMgr&parentid=2&control=SetCommunity&CommunityID=404&RaiseDocID=000000000001015326&RaiseDocType=Abstract_id

  23. Ramon; good look at all the variables. I'd like to add on a few elements. A full charge for a Volt will be closer to 11kWh including losses at the charger. Some drives the Volt will also use gasoline to complete the 40 miles depending on weather and driving style. Other times it's electric range may get into the 50s. Gasoline, unlike coal will require more energy intensive refining, and deliveries to retailers are small scale unlike bulk transport to thermal plants. Refining, delivery and pumping from in ground tanks to the customer adds an additional 9 to 10 kWh of electricity use. That's 39 billion kWh in the US, or a lot of coal burned in China, to get gasoline into Prius and Volt fuel tanks.

  24. This leads back to the question asked both by Michael Thwaite and Greg Tyler. Does the Gruetter study account for the added electricity used to refine deliver and sell gasoline vs. generating the electricity direct from coal or other sources?

  25. And where does the coal come from?

    Is it just sitting there ready to be burned? Doesn't it have to be mined and transported? How much CO2 does that create?

    China imports coal from other countries. Do they do this using clean coal power? Are the earthmovers EVs as well?

    Why is it EV fans can't handle some honest debate?

    Well to wheels is very complex and groups like ERPI have an agenda, and it's always easy to cherry pick.

    Toyota is also on record claiming that EVs don't make sense in China because of its over-dependence on coal, but I assume EV advocates will claim Toyota is just protecting its hybrid interests

  26. Methane, groundwater pollution, including radioactive elements, are all part of coal mining itself, let alone the energy needed to mine and transport coal.

    And the strip minining and lax environmental standards in China and much of the rest of Asia significantly exacerbate this problem.


    Please, it will take many decades to replace the current infrastructure. Check out the IEA energy production numbers. Renewables aren't even spit in the bucket yet.

  27. For the record I believe in EVs, buy ONLY as a long term solution.

    Nevertheless, even in the US, Carnegie Melon studies have demonstrated that while CO2 will be reduced, NoX reductions will be flat, and SO2 emissions will increase switching to plug-ins - in the US.

    In China SO2 levels are increasing at a ridiculous rate - higher than levels in the US in the '80s and the acid rain period - and growing fast.

    Oxford University, in terms of CO2, has claimed that downsizing and turbo charging, followed by hybrid cars, and eventually plug-ins are the key to emission's reductions.

    It's simple economics. Plug-ins are too expensive for most consumers, and waiting until they are cost-effective is a poor solution because of the legacy effect.

  28. Electric IS indeed used to refine gasoline, and on topof that an ICE car is only 15% efficient. So 5 of every 6 gallons of fuel you buy is wasted on heat, friction and internal work by the engine & transmission. Conversely an electric car is 85% or more efficient... so an electric car can go pretty far on the electricity used to produce 5 of those 6 gallons of fuel. Bottom line no gas car is even close to the cleanliness of an electric car. Furthermore the cars are in the cities where the people live work and play while the powerplan is usually a few or many miles away. So again the electric car is far superior. And finally the best argument, is that electric cars can be recharged from the Sun, even in the city & provide zero pollution!!

  29. This is the second misleading commentary from Antony Ingram I've read in a short exposure today to Green Car Reports. The other being an ominus warning that we should expect more EV car fires due to battery incidents at the Mitsubishi factory. After reading the article it was clear NO NEW FIRES had actually occured in an EV on a public street. As to incidents at a factory... I expect those incidents will lead to safer cars. Its unfortunate the OIL head writers have to lie and distort reality to perpetuate their filthy ICE car prejudice. (ref the recent New York Times article & Top Gear's Tesla & Leaf distortions). EV's are truly superior vehicles, better for the people and the environment. Anthony should be smart enough to realize it.

Commenting is closed for old articles.

Get FREE Dealer Quotes

From dealers near you

Find Green Cars


© 2015 Green Car Reports. All Rights Reserved. Green Car Reports is published by High Gear Media. Send us feedback. Stock photography by izmo, Inc.