Do Electric Cars Emit CO2? Carbon Footprint Comparison

You may be wondering how electric cars are so environmentally friendly. We’ll answer that question that’s been running through your mind: do electric cars emit CO2? We’ll also take a look at the carbon footprint as a whole, and compare it to that of a conventional, petrol-powered car.

Eco-friendly drivers can rejoice – electric cars don’t emit CO2 while you’re driving them. Now we can make things even better by letting you know that the total carbon footprint compared to regular cars is much less, too. 

When you’re driving an all-electric vehicle, zero emissions will be released from your tailpipe. We do have to admit, however, that there are emissions released during EV production.

Fortunately, for all of you Tesla fans, when all is said and done, the total carbon footprint of an electric car is much less than that of its petrol-powered counterpart. 

Let’s take a look at why. 

Does an Electric Car Release Emissions?

A joyride in an electric vehicle is a truly happy experience. Why? Because you can cruise through the streets and not have to worry about greenhouse gas emissions coming out of your tailpipe.

Electric cars have what is referred to as zero tank-to-wheel (or tailpipe) emissions. When a battery electric vehicle (BEV) is in operation, there are no emissions produced. When we look at plug-in-hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) and hybrid vehicles, they produce increasingly more CO2 emissions, but still account for much less than internal combustion engine (ICE) cars.

Even when a PHEV is running off of fuel, it will still release fewer emissions than a conventional fuel-powered car.

But when it comes to CO2 emissions, it’s important to consider all aspects of electric car production and operation. We know that the carbon footprint of electric cars is much less than regular cars, but let’s look at why.

Electric Car Pollution

When it comes to ICE vehicles, several different air pollutants are released during driving or idling. Carbon monoxide, benzene, nitrogen oxide, nitrogen dioxide, volatile organic compounds, and particulate matter are all released into the air. The nitrous oxide depletes our ozone layer, which means that more harmful UV radiation is able to pass through our atmosphere. Nitrogen dioxide mixes with sulphur dioxide to create acid rain—damaging forests and crops.

Not only are these pollutants responsible for smog, but they also lead to severe human health issues. At the very least, they cause allergies and skin and eye irritation. In worse cases, they can cause respiratory problems and may reduce the body’s ability to transport oxygen. In fact, these pollutants are attributed to over 7 million premature deaths each year! Really makes you rethink being surrounded by several tailpipes during traffic, doesn’t it?

Just think about all of the health and environmental impacts your daily drive to work has! All of this can be minimized by driving an electric car. Not only do BEVs produce zero emissions during driving, but they also produce very minimal air pollutants (just some particulate matter from tire breakdown). 

You can even have your electric car running in your closed garage for hours—causing no harm for your or your family. Do that with a conventional ICEV and things could get fatal in a matter of just a few minutes. 

While the type of air pollution we just mentioned isn’t directly related to CO2, it’s easy to see why the total environmental footprint of an electric vehicle is better than that of a petrol or diesel-powered car.

Electric Car Production

When talking about the CO2 emissions of anything, it’s always important to consider the production—and this goes for electric cars, too.

When it comes to electric vehicles, the significant source of emissions and environmental impacts comes from the production. Generally speaking, more than one-third of the total emissions associated with electric vehicles comes from getting the raw materials for the batteries.

These are materials that require energy-intensive extraction and refining, like cobalt, graphite, and lithium. In these cases, a lot of water and energy is required, which contributes to high CO2 emissions during the production stage.

However, if this all sounds a bit ‘doom and gloom,’ we’re in for a treat. Many EV manufacturers have become increasingly apparent of ways they can reduce some of the environmental impacts during the production phase—namely by reducing the materials required for the battery. Many producers are already recycling batteries, or looking into the process, which can result in emissions reductions of around 50%!

Not only that but even if an electric vehicle is associated with higher emissions during its production stage, that amount is paid off during the car’s operation. In just two years, an electric vehicle’s operational emissions savings has made up for what CO2 emissions were produced during production. 

Carbon Footprint Compared to Regular Cars

When it comes to fully understanding the carbon footprint of electric vehicles, we think it’s important to realize that the production phase will continuously become more environmentally sustainable over time. Manufacturers like Volkswagen, BMW, Tesla and Toyota already have plans to become carbon-neutral or exclusively use renewable energy during manufacturing.

The use phase is where the environmental benefits will be seen right away. Even in countries that have an energy mix that is partly made up of coal, the emissions associated with driving are less than those of an ICEV.

Curious to find out more? There are a few ways you can calculate the emissions of your electric car and see how it compares to a petrol or diesel car. It’s just a rough estimate but will give you an idea of how your country or state’s electricity source contributes to the total emissions of your electric car. 

American and European EV emissions calculators

  • If you’re in the United States, the Alternative Fuels Data Center website helps you see how your state’s energy mix contributes to the annual emissions of your BEV, PHEV, hybrid, or gasoline-powered car.
  • If you’re in Europe, check out the CO2 emissions calculator from Nexxt Lab. You can choose from a specific list of makes and models to see how your electric car compares to a petrol or diesel car given your respective country’s energy mix.

In Europe, road transport is the largest source of CO2 emissions, making up about 20% of all greenhouse gases. In the U.S., that proportion is closer to 29%. Australian transport emissions are only 17% but are growing every year. There’s a clear case for making our transportation sector greener, and electric cars will help forge the path there.

If this is good news now, continue to stay excited because things are expected to keep getting better and better in the world of electric vehicles. Improvements are being made on a daily basis. The batteries are continuously getting more sustainable, and we’re finding new and innovative ways to reuse or recycle them. The power grids that fuel electric cars are getting greener and we’re starting to see more and more renewable energy being incorporated into the cars themselves. 

Electric Cars for a Sustainable Future

We’re not the only ones who are impressed with the emissions of electric cars. Governments around the world have seen electric cars as a way they can reduce their countries’ total emissions. The drive towards electrification is already happening in countries like Norway, where around half of the annual car sales are electric. Other countries like France, China, and the United Kingdom have plans to phase out petrol cars within the next couple of decades. Cities like Madrid, Mexico City, Paris, and Athens will also follow suit, as will US states like California.

Global EV growth rates are around 50-60% now—a number that’s expected to increase as electric cars get cheaper and the technology to build and operate them becomes greener. The momentum driving us towards electric transportation is unstoppable. And the fact that electric cars emit zero CO2 while being driven is one of the first reasons we’ll get to an electrified and sustainable future.

Do Electric Cars emit more CO2?

No, Electric Cars do not emit any CO2, whereas regular (ICE) cars do.

Do Tesla cars emit CO2?

No, as Teslas are electric cars, they do not emit any CO2.