The EV industry can sometimes seem a little self-satisfied with its environmental efforts. Across their full life cycle, EVs are more environmentally friendly than their internal combustion engine (ICE) counterparts and, once on the market, they will contribute significantly to a drop in carbon dioxide emissions.  

But let’s not ignore the inconvenient truth. The way EVs are manufactured and the impact their batteries have on the environment are certainly far from being perfectly “green”. Although comparing EVs to ICE cars will make the electric vehicle industry the clear environmental winner, we need to beat the existing EVs in efficiency and performance, and make them greener than they are, not just greener than diesel- and gas-powered cars.  

The current EVs 

The graph below shows a number of EVs currently on the market and the diversity of efficiency among these vehicles. Currently, a larger battery simply means a longer range but not necessarily better efficiency (with only a few exceptions to date). A longer range with a larger battery increases the overall weight of the car, costs to manufacturers and consumers, and environmental costs involved in additional battery cells and more electricity consumed by the vehicle. A large battery capacity only means a more costly (monetarily and environmentally) vehicle.   

Data from U.S. EPA website www.fueleconomy.gov 

The less efficient large vehicles with big batteries are what’s dragging down the “average” line marked on the graph. Unfortunately for the end-users and the environment, large batteries tend to go in tandem with poorer system efficiencies. Engineers and manufacturers who must work with small batteries are forced to find ways to make them last longer and, therefore, look for solutions that make their cars more efficient. But makers of vehicles with larger batteries have less pressure or interest in investing in research and innovation that would make them more efficient since their costs are already very high and their range is long enough.  

What the industry needs 

Increased efficiency is the necessary change. Making EVs at least 15% more efficient would allow for a smaller battery to offer the same range or for the same size battery to offer a greater range. Below are two graphs that show how this 15% improvement would elevate the “average” vehicle to an efficiency level that’s only achieved by today’s “best” vehicles (the new average is marked in blue while the old average is now yellow). The “best” vehicles of today would, in turn, achieve results unseen until now. This wouldn’t cause any increase in cost or additional damage to the natural environment (and would ensure that the EVs consumed less energy from the grid).  

According to ICCT, “battery production is associated with 56 to 494 kilograms of carbon dioxide per kilowatt-hour of battery capacity (kg CO2/kWh) for electric vehicles.” This range is very wide because it depends on many factors, but if we take a specific example of Polestar 2, whose battery modules (77kWh) account for 7 out of 26.2 tonnes of CO2e from the manufacturing process, a reduction of 15% would mean that roughly 1 tonne of embedded CO2e could be avoided. This is, of course, in addition to the energy saved by the improved propulsion efficiency alone. 

Improving system efficiencies would allow for smaller EV batteries (or for the same size batteries to provide a longer range). This, in turn, would make room for electric cars to be cheaper to build and run, and reduce their environmental impact.  

The industry mustn’t rest on their laurels. Simply moving to EVs and away from ICE is not enough to claim being “green”. We all need to constantly improve and compare EVs to other EVs to ensure increasing efficiencies, and, therefore, more environmentally-friendly results. 

This blog post was adapted from the “Towards a Greener Future with EVs” whitepaper, which can be found here.