Electric vehicle emissions

Electric vehicles (EVs) do not produce carbon dioxide through driving. Because of this, many people wrongly assume that they are emissions free vehicles, but this is not the case. Emissions from EVs fall into two categories: Life cycle emissions, and beyond tailpipe emissions.

Life cycle

Life cycle emissions of an EV are an important, and often overlooked fact. While EVs produce less driving emissions than cars powered through internal combustion, their life cycle emissions are higher. Life cycle emissions are byproducts of production and disposal. They take into account things like mining lithium for battery production, as well as disposing of said batteries once the car is finished.

Beyond tailpipe

While it is a well-known fact that EVs do not produce tailpipe emissions (and well advertised), they are still responsible for some carbon dioxide as a result of the electricity they use. Depending on the part of the world you live in, electricity is produced in different ways. Much of Alberta's electricity is produced through coal and natural gas, meaning EVs in Alberta have fairly high emissions.[1] Conversely, almost all of Ontario's electricity is supplied through nuclear power and hydroelectricity, meaning that EVs have very few upstream emissions.[2] Below is a CO2 calculator for the United States. Plug in a zip code and a car, and you can see how the emissions vary by area.

On the left of the chart, they provide a comparison for the "average" new vehicle. What they are actually showing you is the CO2 (measured in grams) per mile of a 24 mpg vehicle. Fuel efficient cars like the Volkswagen Golf TDI achieve a much more impressive 206 g/mile of CO2.[3]

City Zip code
Houston, TX 77084
Los Angeles, CA 90011
Chicago, IL 60629
New York City, NY 11226
Seattle, WA 98101
Lawrenceville, GA 30043

The United States Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Agency have created the following website to help understand electric vehicle emissions:

For Further Reading


  1. Cns-snc.ca, 2018. [Online]. Available: https://cns-snc.ca/media/albertaelectricity/albertaelectricity.html. [Accessed: 08- Jun- 2018].
  2. Cns-snc.ca, 2018. [Online]. Available: https://cns-snc.ca/media/ontarioelectricity/ontarioelectricity.html. [Accessed: 08- Jun- 2018]
  3. "Europe's Energy Portal - Carbon Dioxide (CO2) Emissions of Cars", Energy.eu, 2018. [Online]. Available: https://www.energy.eu/car-co2-emissions/volkswagen.php. [Accessed: 08- Jun- 2018]

Authors and Editors

Bethel Afework, James Jenden, Kailyn Stenhouse, Jason Donev
Last updated: June 25, 2018
Get Citation