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Electric Vehicles' Impact on the Environment

December 13, 2021

In the late 90s, hybrid vehicles became the preferred choice for many people who were interested in both saving money on gas and improving the environment as they use less gas and produce fewer harmful pollutants. In recent years, fully electric cars have grown in popularity for the same reasons – especially as gas prices continue to rise and reports of climate change paint a dark picture of the Earth’s future. 

Use of electric vehicles (EVs) in the US is growing steadily, though the country is showing less growth than in Europe or China. According to a survey from Pew Research, as of 2020 there were over 1.1 million EVs on US roadways – three times as many registered EVs compared to 2016. This puts the US with about 17% of the world’s EVs, with China at 44% and Europe around 31%.  

The primary benefit of these vehicles is their impact on the environment. Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by cars and other sources are the primary cause of climate change and can lead to health issues, such as respiratory problems. 

EVs generally contribute to fewer GHG emissions over their lifetime, shares the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This includes both tailpipe emissions and upstream emissions. Fully electric vehicles have zero tailpipe emissions. They do have upstream emissions, which includes emissions that are generated by manufacturing the vehicle and electricity production. 

Because of this, some people argue that EVs do not have a net-positive impact on the environment, especially if the source of electricity is not clean, such as coal or natural gas. However, the upstream emissions of these vehicles are far lower than traditional gas-powered vehicles. 

For example, according to fueleconomy.gov, a fully-electric Chevy Volt with average use in the Laurel, MD. area will produce about 73% fewer GHG emissions compared to a gas-powered vehicle. This estimate takes both tailpipe and upstream emissions into account. 

The environmental benefit of EVs is causing many world leaders to encourage their constituents to buy electric.  

In Germany, the nation’s government has pledged to phase out the sale of combustion-engine vehicles by 2030, reports Bethany Biron for Business Insider. The remainder of the European Union hopes to do the same by 2035. 

“[Germany] has committed to halting the sale of combustion-engine vehicles by setting an ambitious goal to get at least 15 million battery-powered cars on the road by the end of the decade,” shares Biron. 

President Biden has also pledged to increase the number of EVs on the roads. His goal is that in 2030, half of all new vehicles sold will be zero-emission vehicles. 

“The Executive Order also kicks off development of long-term fuel efficiency and emissions standards to save consumers money, cut pollution, boost public health, advance environmental justice, and tackle the climate crisis,” reports The White House. 

Want to learn about ways you can get into the EV manufacturing field and help engineer a greener future? Capitol Tech offers bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees in a variety of engineering fields, including electrical engineering and mechatronics engineering. Many courses are available both on campus and online. To learn more about Capitol Tech’s degree programs, contact admissions@captechu.edu.