In a week where many mainstream media outlets are claiming electric cars are prohibitively more expensive to own than gasoline counterparts, a team of Swiss researchers have released conclusive data showing that the environmental impact of the electric car is much less than most gas cars.

As any EV advocate will tell you, electric vehicles are extremely green when fuelled from renewable energy such as solar or wind power. In fact, ignoring any carbon impact of manufacture, you can argue such electric cars can be zero emissions.

Electric cars charged from non-clean power sources, such as gas, oil and coal are less polluting than gasoline cars, but for those who remain unconvinced of the benefits of the electric car there is a claimed sinful side to the EV.


If some of the most vocal anti-EV spokespersons are to be believed, mining the minerals and metals used in electric car batteries are much more damaging to the planet than any gasoline car.

Thankfully, it turns out they are wrong. Making an electric car really doesn’t take up as many of the earth’s resources as previously thought.

photo credit: aminorjourney / creative commons,

photo credit: aminorjourney / creative commons,

A team of researchers at the Swiss-based EMPA institute, which focuses on material sciences and technology development, have concluded that electric vehicle lithium-ion batteries are at worse, a moderate environmental burden.

And when comparing the environmental impact of an EV to a gasoline car, from raw materials through production and use to recycling at end of life, EVs used less natural resources.

Comparing electric cars similar in size and performance to the 2010 VW Golf, the researchers discovered that only 15% of the total environmental impact of building the car could be attributed to the battery pack. Of that, only 2.3% came from mining and processing raw lithium.

Other materials used in lithium-ion batteries such as copper and aluminium, attributed 7.5% of the environmental burden.

But don’t think for one second that the researchers were giving EV batteries an easy time.

Although many electric car battery packs could theoretically be reused without reprocessing in power back-up applications, the researchers assumed a battery pack would only be fit for reprocessing on removal from an EV.

Extracting Lithium Carbonate From Brine

Extracting Lithium Carbonate From Brine

The paper also outlines that running an electric car with lithium-ion batteries for 100,000 miles results in three times more pollution from the energy used to fuel it, if a mixture of fuel sources such as nuclear, coal-fired and renewable similar to those found in Europe are used.

Use power exclusively from coal-fired stations, and the impact of an EV worsens by over 13%.

Use purely renewable energy sources such as hydroelectric, and the environmental impact of an EV is reduced by over 40%.

Taking into account the standard electricity generation mix in Europe the researchers concluded that to be more environmentally friendly than an EV a gasoline car would need to have a fuel efficiency of more than 59 miles per U.S. gallon.

The message from Switzerland is clear.  Even when fuelled by dirty sources, EVs have less environmental impact than their gasoline counterparts.

Charge from a renewable source, and gasoline cars simply cannot compete.