A Tesla Model 3 is touted as a zero-emissions car by government regulators, but it actually results in more carbon dioxide than a comparable diesel-powered car, according to a new study.
When the CO2 emissions from battery production is included, electric cars, like Teslas, are ” in the best case, slightly higher than those of a diesel engine, and are otherwise much higher,” reads a release from the German think tank IFO.
The study by German researchers was released in mid-April, but it was recently highlighted in media reports, including Tuesday evening by The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board.
“It’s better read as a warning that new technologies aren’t a climate-change panacea. Recall the false promises about corn and cellulosic ethanol,” the Journal editorial board wrote of the study.
Driving a Tesla Model 3 in Germany, for example, is responsible for 156 to 181 grams of CO2 per kilometer, compared to just 141 grams per kilometer for a diesel-powered Mercedes C220d — that includes emissions from producing diesel fuel.
IFO looked at electric car production in Germany, which is heavily reliant on coal power. Electric car emissions in other countries depend on their energy mix, but Germany is the world’s third-largest electric car maker.
China and the U.S. are the first and second-largest electric car producers, respectively. China gets 65 percent of its electricity from coal power and the U.S. relies on coal for 27 percent of its electric power.
China is also the top battery-producing country, using coal power to produce batteries for electric vehicles that are then subsidized for being “zero” emissions.
California, for example, requires automakers to cut greenhouse gas emissions in cars by producing lower emissions vehicles or buying credits from companies, like Tesla, that make electric vehicles. At the federal level, the U.S. gives tax breaks of up to $7,500 per electric vehicle.
Federal subsidies for Teslas are set to be phased out since the company, founded by Elon Musk, hit the 200,000-vehicle production cap. However, Congress is debating whether or not to extend electric car subsidies.
It’s not just battery production, but charging vehicles that emit lots of CO2. Germany gets 35 percent of its electricity from coal-fired power plants, so charging a Tesla in, say, Bavaria results in 83 grams of CO2 per kilometer driven.
“Over the long term, hydrogen-methane technology offers a further advantage: it allows surplus wind and solar power generated during peaks to be stored, and these surpluses will see a sharp increase as the share of this renewable energy grows,” study co-author Christoph Buchal, professor of physics at the University of Cologne, said in a statement.
IFO isn’t the first research group to conclude electric cars may not reduce carbon dioxide emissions as promised.
A study released in 2018 also found driving electric cars may come with higher emissions than diesel vehicles, largely because of lithium-ion battery production.
Likewise, a Manhattan Institute study from last year also found that putting more electric cars on the road would likely increase emissions compared to internal combustion engine vehicles.
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