Are electric vehicles really better for the environment?

There are three main categories of environmental impact that need to be considered when comparing electric (EVs) and internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles: 

  • Tailpipe emissions (local air pollution): When ICE vehicles turn gasoline into power, they produce harmful byproducts (e.g., Nitrogen Oxide (NOx), Carbon Monoxide (CO), particulate matter (PM), that are released out of the vehicle’s tailpipe. Tailpipe emissions from traditional vehicles produce greenhouse gas emissions and can lead to local air pollution by contributing to smog and haze. In turn, this air pollution can cause or worsen health problems, such as asthma and chronic bronchitis. Unlike ICE vehicles, EVs do not produce any tailpipe emissions and therefore can benefit local air quality and public health. 
  • Fuel production emissions (global pollution): When taking a more holistic look, both EVs and ICE vehicles produce emissions related to the production of fuel (gasoline or diesel for ICE vehicles and electricity for EVs). In the case of gasoline and diesel fuel production, emissions are produced through the extraction, refining, and transportation of fuel to pumping stations. When it comes to EVs, there are emissions associated with the generation of electricity used to charge cars. The difference in emissions associated with fuel production varies greatly depending on the source of electricity generation. Still, research suggests that EVs have lower greenhouse gas emissions than ICE vehicles, even based on current US and Colorado electricity generation. This is largely because much of the electricity produced in the US and Colorado comes from cleaner sources like natural gas, wind, and solar. As the cost of renewable electricity generation continues to plummet, and both utilities and states commit to increasing the percentage of renewables in their supply, the greenhouse gas emissions associated with charging EVs will decline over time. See the Department of Energy Alternative Fuels Database for more information on comparing greenhouse gas emissions associated with EVs and ICE vehicles.  
  • Manufacturing and end-of-life emissions and other environmental impacts: Environmental impacts and greenhouse gas emissions are associated with the manufacture and disposal of any vehicle. However, the lithium-ion batteries in current EVs pose specific social, economic, and environmental challenges related to the materials used to produce them. Battery materials sourcing and re-cycling are the top supply chain impacts to be addressed.   There is significant ongoing research and commercial development aimed at both reducing the amount of cobalt and other materials used in EV batteries, while also improving options for battery reuse (building and grid storage) and recycling (for example the Department of Energy ReCell Advanced Battery Recycling Project). See additional FAQs for more information on batteries. 

Show All Answers

1. What cars are considered "electric"?
2. Are EVs affordable?
3. How far can an EV travel on one charge?
4. Are there electric trucks and SUVs available?
5. Where can I charge my electric vehicle in Durango?
6. How long will it take to charge my electric vehicle?
7. What are the benefits of driving an electric vehicle?
8. What are the 3 different levels of charging?
9. What are the different plug or connector types?
10. How do winter conditions affect electric vehicles?
11. Are electric vehicles really better for the environment?
12. How clean is the electricity I am using to charge my vehicle?
13. How sustainable are electric vehicle batteries?
14. When should I consider replacing my existing gas-powered vehicle with an electric vehicle?
15. How much does it cost to use the public charging stations at the Transit Center?