Electric Cars Are Harder on the Environment than Gas-Powered Ones

by Hans Bader

“Electric vehicles release more toxic particles into the atmosphere and are worse for the environment than their gas-powered counterparts,” according to a study, reports the New York Post:

The study, published by emissions data firm Emission Analytics … found that brakes and tires on EVs release 1,850 times more particle pollution compared to modern tailpipes, which have “efficient” exhaust filters, bringing gas-powered vehicles’ emissions to new lows. Today, most vehicle-related pollution comes from tire wear. As heavy cars drive on light-duty tires — most often made with synthetic rubber made from crude oil and other fillers and additives — they deteriorate and release harmful chemicals into the air…. Because EVs are on average 30% heavier, brakes and tires on the battery-powered cars wear out faster than on standard cars.

Emission Analytics found that tire wear emissions on half a metric tonne of battery weight in an EV are more than 400 times as great as direct exhaust particulate emissions. For reference, half a metric tonne is equivalent to roughly 1,100 pounds. The most popular EV in the US, Tesla’s Model Y, boasts a lithium-ion battery that weighs in at a hefty 1,836 pounds. Another sought-after electric model, Ford’s F-150 Lightning pickup truck, also has an approximately 1,800-pound battery….

The study throws doubt on the practicality of the Biden administration’s EV mandates, which tout electric cars as “zero-emissions vehicles” in a quest to force two-thirds of new cars in America to be all-electric by the year 2032. California lawmakers have similarly referred to EVs as producing “zero emissions” because they don’t have tailpipes, per the [Wall Street] Journal, which added that the label is “deceptive.”

Electric cars still use tires made from petroleum that create particle pollution as they wear….“you have this downside of EVs that increases particle pollution. Air pollution is about what we breathe and the health effects…Tires are made up of a lot of nasty chemicals,” said Emissions Analytics chief Nick Molden.

Increased exposure to these toxins “can increase the risk of health problems like heart disease, asthma, and low birth weight,” according to the New York Department of Health…“A lot of it [chemicals] goes into the soil and water, affecting animals and fish. And we then go and eat the animals and fish, so we are ingesting tire pollution,” Molden added….Even so, California’s air agency used a model that assumes electric and gas vehicles have the same amount of tire wear when analyzing the effects of the ban [on gas-powered vehicles].

As Ed Morrissey notes at Hot Air, “Thanks to the increased efficiency of internal combustion engines, their emissions are relatively clean. The increased weight from the massive batteries in EVs forces a significantly higher rate of erosion of tires and brakes, creating massive increases in emissions…. The reaction from regulators so far suggests that the study may be accurate. The California Air Resources Board suggested that batteries may become lighter in the future, and that manufacturers can use lighter-weight materials on other parts of EVs to “compensate” for their heavy batteries. “That, however, would mean trade-offs on safety in collisions.” Using lighter-weight materials increases traffic fatalities. The National Research Council concluded that 1,300 to 2,600 people per year died due to federal fuel economy regulations that resulted in cars being made of lighter materials and thus less protected against collisions.

Electric vehicles also require enormous damage to the environment just to produce their batteries — 250 tons of mining is required for a single battery, according to Real Clear Energy. Switching to electric cars would require a radical expansion of mining across the world, and the minerals for the car batteries will be refined mainly using the coal-powered electric grid of China, the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases. Yet states are starting to mandate electric vehicles. Nine states, including California, have now decided to ban gasoline-powered cars by 2035, requiring that all cars sold be electric instead.

In 2021, Virginia’s Democratic-controlled legislature passed a law adopting California standards for Virginia vehicles, so Virginia also will ban gasoline-powered cars in 2035, unless that law is repealed, as Republicans seek to do (the Republican-controlled Virginia House of Delegates voted to repeal the ban on gas-powered cars in 2023, but the Democratic-controlled Virginia state Senate kept the ban in place, and Democrats regained control of the Virginia House of Delegates in the 2023 election).

Real Clear Energy describes the challenges of switching to electric vehicles (EVs):

a typical EV battery weighs about 1,000 pounds…That half-ton battery is made from a wide range of minerals including copper, nickel, aluminum, graphite, cobalt, manganese, and of course, lithium. And to get the materials to fabricate that half-ton battery requires digging up and processing some 250 tons of the earth somewhere on the planet…80%–90% of relevant minerals are mined and refined outside the U.S. and E.U. and will be for a long time regardless of subsidies. And, since China refines 50%–90% of the world’s suite of energy minerals for EVs, it’s relevant that its grid is two-thirds coal-fired—and will be for a long time.

Moreover, compared to building and fueling a gasoline-powered car for a ten year period, an electric vehicle “entails a ten-fold greater extraction and handling of materials from the earth, and far, far more acreage of land disturbed and, unfortunately, often polluted….the mines operating and planned can’t supply even a small fraction of the 400% to 7,000% increase in demand for minerals that will be needed within a decade to meet the [electric vehicle mandate]. What’s relevant is that the IEA [International Energy Agency] has told us we’ll need hundreds of new mega-mines, and that it takes 10 to 16 years to find, plan and open a new mine.”

Since most of these mines will not open before 2035, the minerals needed for electric car batteries will be in increasingly short supply as 2035 approaches, causing price spikes for car batteries, which typically cost up to $20,000 in 2022. That means the price of electric vehicles, which typically cost more than gasoline-powered cars, could skyrocket. Real Clear Energy’s conclusions are echoed by The Guardian, which notes that a “transition to electric vehicles” in the U.S. “could require three times as much lithium as is currently produced for the entire global market, causing needless water shortages … and ecosystem destruction.”

It is sometimes claimed that electric vehicles result in less emissions of greenhouse gases than gasoline-powered cars. But this claim is based mostly on flawed studies that assume electric car batteries are smaller than they in fact are, radically understating their environmental footprint and the greenhouse gases emitted to produce them.

As Real Clear Energy explains, “nearly all studies making emissions claims are worse than guesses,” typically cherry-picking “low numbers” for battery size:

A meta-study of 50 different technical studies found the estimates of emissions varied by over 300%. And, worse, that analysis exposed the fact that most emissions claims were based on assuming use of a small 30 kWh battery. That’s one-third the size of batteries actually used in most EVs. Triple the battery size and you triple the upstream emissions – and you triple the demand and thus price-pressure for the minerals.

A “net increase in global emissions” could easily result from the transition to electric vehicles, it says. That is because the mining needed for car batteries would not only expand massively, but require mining low-grade ores that require enormous amounts of energy and greenhouse gas emissions to dig up and process:

Geologists have long documented that ore grades have been and will continue declining. That’s because global ore grades are declining – for the non-cognoscenti, that means for each new ton of mineral there’s a steady and unavoidable increase in the quantity of rock dug up and processed. A decrease of just 0.4% in copper ore grade will require seven times more energy to access the copper.

If a significant fraction of motorists switch to electric vehicles, that could strain the power grid. CNBC says that when “half of all new cars sold in the U.S.” are electric vehicles, that may “put a major strain on our nation’s electric grid, an aging system built for a world that runs on fossil fuels.”

In states like California and Virginia, all new cars sold in 2035 will be electric vehicles, posing an even greater risk of straining the electric grid. As Real Clear Energy points out, the infrastructure needed for “EV fueling stations is greater than it is for” gas stations. Because EV charging takes longer than filling a gas tank, “long refueling times will translate into long lines at EV fueling stations as well as the need for five to 10 times more charging ports than fuel pumps.” Moreover, EV fueling stations will have “staggering requirements for grid infrastructure upgrades. Today roadside fuel stations have the electric demand of a 7-Eleven; but convert those to EV fueling station and every one of them will have the electric demand of a steel mill – and highways will need thousands of them.”

Electric vehicles will also place a strain on transportation infrastructure. They are much heavier than gasoline-powered vehicles. As Axlewise explains, “The average EV battery weighs about 1,000 pounds. Some batteries weigh more than 2,000 pounds. The heaviest EV battery is the Hummer EV battery, which weighs around 2,923 pounds.” One study found that electric vehicles place more than twice as much stress on roads as gas-powered vehicles. That means more cracks in the pavement.

A convoy of electric trucks could cause a bridge to collapse, even if it could handle being packed with gas-powered trucks. Last May, The Telegraph reported that the “sheer weight of electric vehicles could sink” some bridges in England.

Hans Bader practices law in Washington, D.C. Republished with permission from Liberty Unyielding.