There are three key factors to consider when determining how clean EVs really are: vehicle and battery production emissions, cleanliness of the electricity used to charge the vehicle during its lifespan and the battery recycling/disposal process.
1. Vehicle production emissions
Vehicle manufacturing is more resource-intensive for EVs today than for producing internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles, in large part due to the resource extraction required for an EV’s lithium-ion battery.
- While initial manufacturing emissions are higher for EVs, once on the road, EV emissions are so low that within 2 years ICE vehicles catch up and surpass the emissions from an EV. If the EV is charged using renewable energy, it can take as little as a year to be greener.
- Notably, the mining of the minerals for battery production is also becoming cleaner and more efficient and is expected to continue in a greener direction in the years to come.
2. Cleanliness of electricity
EVs have zero tailpipe emissions but the power used to charge them can cause emissions. This can vary depending on location, and the cleanliness of the power grid.
- For EVs to deliver the best GHG results, they should be charged using green power, which is clean electricity produced from renewable sources such as solar, wind, geothermal, and more. This type of power is ideal for charging EVs, and lowers electricity costs and greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to less overall pollution.
- According to the Canadian Electricity Association, Canada generates electricity with more than an 80% GHG emissions-free electricity mix. While innovations in renewable energy will continue to increase emission-free electricity, we do not yet have the technology and infrastructure to make a complete switch.
3. Battery recycling process
Initially, EV batteries were not designed for alternative uses after their lifespan in an EV and many ended up in landfills. This is beginning to change as EV technology continues to develop.
- An EV battery retains up to 80 percent of its charge capacity at the end of its life and can be useful in applications such as wheelchairs and other devices; residential energy storage or back up power; and energy storage in renewable systems.
- If an EV battery is not utilized for another purpose, innovations in recycling have seen several companies, including Li-Cycle, a Canadian company, develop solutions that recover more than 95% of all raw materials found in lithium-ion batteries to further reduce emissions at the end of an EV’s lifecycle.