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Is electric driving better for the environment?

April 29, 2022

As long as the electricity from the national electricity grid does not come 100% from renewable sources, such as solar panels and wind turbines, an electric car is not 100% green either. For example, if you use your own solar panels. Then there are no ‘indirect emissions’.

But if you include the emissions during the production of electricity, then you must also include the emissions released during the production of petrol and diesel? And what about the production of lithium-ion batteries and the extraction of essential raw materials for these batteries? These are all logical questions if we want to know how environmentally friendly an electric car really is. But also difficult issues that are not easy to answer.

well to wheel

In order to be able to compare the indirect emissions of electric cars with those of petrol and diesel cars, the total emissions of all processes together are often looked at. So not only the emissions during driving, but also during the production of the car, the production of fuels/electricity, the emissions during the driving, transport work and everything in between.

The total emissions of all these factors added together are also known as ‘well-to-wheel emissions’ (WTW). Out  studies by, among others, TNO  en Milieu Centraal , it appears that the WTW emissions of an electric car are 30 to 40% lower than those of a petrol or diesel car.

Milieu Centraal bases this on its own research, in which the total CO2 emissions (WTW) of a 100% electric car were calculated and compared with those of an average middle-class petrol car. The production of the car and battery, a total of 220,000 kilometers driven and the use of gray electricity from the Netherlands with a CO2 emission factor of 0.475 kg CO2/kWh were taken into account.

Improvement through greening

The Climate Agreement states that by 2023 at least 70% of Dutch electricity must come from renewable sources such as sun and wind. Due to the greening of the electricity grid, the CO2 savings of an electric car will increase further in the coming period compared to a fuel car.

Particulate matter electric car

According to Milieu Centraal , an electric car also emits 15 to 20% less particulate matter compared to a fuel car. Of course, particulate matter in an electric car does not come from an exhaust, but is caused by the wear of tires and brakes.

Due to the high vehicle weight of an electric car, the tires have to endure more. In principle, this also applies to the brakes, except that electric cars make extensive use of regenerative braking, whereby the car brakes on the engine. The conventional brakes are therefore less loaded, so that the net particulate emissions of an electric car are lower than with a comparable fuel car.