Diesels Cleaner Than Electrics Over Lifetime Says One Study

I’m going to go out on a limb and assume most of our dear readers are fans of fuel efficient cars. I too, like my gas-sipping 4-cylinder Mustang, mostly because it saves me a lot of money compared with the rest of my gas-guzzling fleet. Other people are just trying to lessen their carbon footprint, and common sense suggests that an electric car would have a smaller footprint than any fossil fuel-powered car, right?

Not according to one Swiss study. Compared to diesel-powered cars that get over 60 mpg, electric vehicles may have a larger environmental impact… especially if the electricity comes from non-renewable sources.

The study was done by the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology. Technology requires a lot of rare earth elements and minerals, many of which I couldn’t even pronounce. While batteries tend to have a comparatively small amount of these minerals, add them up over a few million vehicles and you have a substantial amount of hard-to-get resources. The thing is, electric cars are much simpler devices, as electric motors have just a few moving parts and require a lot less materials. Diesel engines, however, are also rather simple, and get great gas mileage. They also don’t require any “exotic” materials.

It is not the batteries that give electric vehicles a larger carbon footprint though. It is the electricity, most of which still comes from non-renewable sources across the world. Plugging in a lot of electric cars might not bring down the electrical grid, but if you get power from a coal-plant, that coal plant has to make X amount more power to fill your car. Diesel still comes from far away, but if you can get 60 mpg out of a diesel, it is more “beneficial” to the environment than an electric car, according to the study.

This study does come with some caveats. For example, the test assumes two batteries (one every 75,000 miles) over the lifetime of the electric car, and a range of 125 miles. The study also didn’t factor in battery recycling, and likely didn’t take into consideration that electric cars will likely be driven a lot less often than their petrol-powered cousins.

Source: Green Car Advisor | Image: Nissan


Christopher DeMorro

A writer and gearhead who loves all things automotive, from hybrids to HEMIs, can be found wrenching or writing- or else, he's running, because he's one of those crazy people who gets enjoyment from running insane distances.