Research: Many drivers might spew out less CO2 with a diesel engine than with ‘clean’ electric

“Beneath the hoods of millions of the clean electric cars rolling onto the world’s roads in the next few years will be a dirty battery,” Niclas Rolander, Jesper Starn, and Elisabeth Behrmann report for Bloomberg. “By 2021, capacity will exist to build batteries for more than 10 million cars running on 60 kilowatt-hour packs, according to data of Bloomberg NEF. Most supply will come from places like China, Thailand, Germany and Poland that rely on non-renewable sources like coal for electricity.”

“‘We’re facing a bow wave of additional CO2 emissions,’ said Andreas Radics, a managing partner at Munich-based automotive consultancy Berylls Strategy Advisors, which argues that for now, drivers in Germany or Poland may still be better off with an efficient diesel engine,” Rolander, Starn, and Behrmann report. “Just to build each car battery—weighing upwards of 500 kilograms (1,100 pounds) in size for sport-utility vehicles—would emit up to 74 percent more C02 than producing an efficient conventional car if it’s made in a factory powered by fossil fuels in a place like Germany, according to Berylls’ findings.”

Year 1 includes manufacturing-stage emissions. Predictions based on carbon tailpipe emissions and energy mix in 2017. Source: Berylls Strategy Advisors

“‘It will come down to where is the battery made, how is it made, and even where do we get our electric power from,’ said Henrik Fisker, chief executive officer and chairman of Fisker Inc., a California-based developer of electric vehicles,” Rolander, Starn, and Behrmann report. “As it is now, manufacturing an electric car pumps out ‘significantly’ more climate-warming gases than a conventional car, which releases only 20 percent of its lifetime C02 at this stage, according to estimates of Mercedes-Benz’s electric-drive system integration department.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: Noise pollution, however, is immediately reduced, regardless of battery origin or electric grid power sources.

The Battery Issue: The past, present, and future of the lithium-ion battery – August 13, 2018
Apple launches $300 million China Clean Energy Fund – July 13, 2018
Apple paves the way for breakthrough carbon-free aluminum smelting method – May 10, 2018
Apple now globally powered by 100 percent renewable energy – April 9, 2018
Apple to stick with environmental pledges despite President Trump’s gutting of Obama’s climate change orders – March 30, 2017
State-of-the-art floating solar island brings Apple’s clean energy program to Japan – March 8, 2017
Greenpeace: Apple again the world’s most environmentally friendly tech company – January 10, 2017
Apple continues supply chain transparency as Trump administration considers suspending conflict mineral requirements – March 27, 2017
Apple announces environmental progress in China; applauds supplier commitment to clean energy – August 17, 2016
Apple VP Jackson visits ‘solar mamas’ in Rajasthan – May 19, 2016
Apple will run all its operations in Singapore on solar power – November 17, 2015
Greenpeace: Apple is tech’s greenest – May 15, 2015
Greenpeace: Apple leading the way in creating a greener, more sustainable internet – April 2, 2014
Greenpeace praises Apple for reducing use of conflict minerals – February 13, 2014


  1. So, a dirty car built in a clean factory is cleaner than a clean car built in a dirty factory. Good to know.

    Now, let’s talk about Tesla: clean cars built in clean factories, plus clean power from consumer solar, also built in clean factories.

  2. Power of any origin creates some sort of pollution. Unless you intend to walk or swim everywhere you go, any form of transport create some level of pollution.

    The ultimate question, that no one as far as I am concerned has proved is whether an increase in CO2 is actually harmful, considering every person & plant on the planet needs it to live, And people exhale it every breath. The planet is actually greener due to CO2… Food grows more.. etc…

    1. Sadly you are mistaken as to final effect. As CO2 increases at a sustained rate unprecedented in measurable history, the planet temperature is rising in a manner that has already accelerated desertification and massive storms that destroy previously fertile land. Governments of course bear the burden of bailing out coastal zones that in a few generations will be underwater. That is precisely why governments need to be proactive to coordinate sustainability plans and , yes, regulations. Just as the road in front of your home has a speed limit for your personal safety, rhe globe needs to moderate its temperature. Humans are not incidental bystanders in all this. You can’t burn through millenia of dinosaur juice in 200 years and then pretend there was no effect on the climate.

  3. It would seem to me that MDN has a not so subtle anti-Tesla bias. Pretty much every story about Tesla covered here has been negative. MDN has. O obligation to cover Tesla since this is an Apple-specific site but when every Tesla story covered here in the past few months has been negative, I begin to smell a rat.

    This article is no exception. For the record, it is possible for an electric car to be dirtier than a diesel. If all the electricity used during production and use of the car comes from coal, and the car is driven sufficiently few miles, you can construct a scenario where the well to wheel emissions of the electric car is greater than that of the diesel car.

    However, this scenario is becoming less and less likely. Electric grids all over the world are becoming cleaner. For example, look at what happened in the US over the past decade or so. Around 10-15 years ago, over half the US electricity supply came from coal. Today that number is down to around a third, natural gas makes up another third and the rest is made up of non-polluting sources. Note that I did not use the word ‘clean’ since nuclear power, while non polluting, is hardly clean. Every country is going in this direction – China included.

    Even though natural gas is a fossil fuel, producing electricity from it results in far fewer emissions than any gas or diesel internal combustion engine. If an electric car is manufactured using electricity that comes from the same mix of sources as we currently have in the US and if the car is charged using the same mix of sources, it will produce fewer emissions than any gas or diesel car. When it comes to emissions, only the most efficient hybrids will be competitive.

    As the percentage of renewables in the US power supply continues to rise, the advantage that electric cars enjoy will continue to grow. Of course the US grid is not homogeneous. Some parts of the US have moved towards renewables faster than others and some are still heavily dependent on coal. In the latter case, an electric car may not be your best option. However with electric cars, there is a clear path towards a near-zero emissions future. With fossil fuel cars, there isn’t.

    – HCE

  4. Right has this report totally ignored the great Diesel scandal or did they simply not get th email. Co2 is far from the worst aspects of what Diesels churn out as we now know even when one ignores the corupt figures producers have been caught out lying about on that.

  5. No Mac News Here.

    But since MDN loves delving into inflammatory divisive politics, I can only add that the article that MDN choses to cherry pick makes several bad assumptions.

    First: There is no such thing as a “dirty battery”. This is label pasting and it immediately belies the author as a biased twit. Old batteries may have used rare earth elements and acid, but those are _not_what modern transportation batteries use today. Batteries today can, and are, recycled. Often there are strict laws to ensure this is done. Diesel in any form is by nature dirty.

    The author assumes that 10 million internal combusion engines would be perfectly maintained, emitting no more pollution at the end of their usable lives as when they rolled out of the factory. This is fantasy. Internal combustion engines (ICE) require maintenance. Powerplants require maintenance too, but that is professionally done by law. What is cheaper, ensuring all ICEs on the road are well maintained or properly maintaining a handful of powerplants? Battery powered cars require basically no maintenance and burn no fuel when sitting at inefficient traffic signals.

    Then we have the static thinking pervasive in this article. The electrical power grid is evolving to use more renewable power, especially in Germany and other progressive high tech nations. Net metering is allowing individuals around the world to *LIBERTARIAN* free themselves from the dependency of some foreign inefficient power generator if they choose to. Importing hydrocarbons from a foreign nation is bad security plan, no? Even if you love carbon pollution, the trends are dramatic: coal is in massive decline and global renewable energy installations are growing rapidly to replace them because the coal plants are not economical and have reached end of life. The author should see that.

    Vehicle sales trends are another issue. The number of vehicles sold in Poland are close to irrelevant compared to nations like the USA and China, nations whose power choices today will dominate the climate impact in years to come. The author seems to think that someone who buys a swanky new electric car in a 2nd world polluting power grid nation will rely 100% on that grid. Nope. Environmentalists with money are installing their own solar panels or donating to environmental causes to offset carbon emisssions. Nations like the USA that have anywhere from 2 to 6 cars per household will have a much bigger impact than in eastern Europe, where one modest car per household is the norm.

    Then the author of course ignores the dramatically different use cases of rural versus urban population growth, local pollution issues versus global emissions issues, technological progress, etc. He literally manufactured a contrived scenario in an attempt to discredit electric cars, when each year a new electric car achieves more and more. Never mind the fact that humans are migrating to congested cities in record numbers year after year in search of good paying jobs.

    Coal is dying due to its being uneconomic compared to cleaner natural gas, or in sunny regions solar, or in windy regions wind power. The coal industry keeps claiming that “clean coal” is possible via smokestack scrubbers and carbon sequestration. It they are honest and truly believe that their “clean coal” schemes are nonpolluting and economical, then this destroys the assumptions baked into this article. Can’t have it both ways.

    Diesel is also dying not primarily because of CO2 or economics but because of NOx, particulate emissions, and the resultant health effects in urban areas. Diesel fumes literally eat away historic sandstone buildings in Europe. Asthma and lung disease rates are high and climbing in some diesel-powered cities. Are those costs taken into account by diesel proponents? Never.

    In your children’s lifetimes, urban areas will make ICE engines both uneconomical and unwanted. Parking already makes private car ownership a luxury in the world’s biggest cities. The author, perhaps a rural American who thinks that the privilege to own and operate an oversized diesel SUV is a constitutional right, appears not to understand this.

    1. I smell MDN moving toward politics where clicks are probably more, now that Apple is no longer a controversial and heartwarming story of how a beleaguered company rises up from the ashes against all odds.

    2. One would think that the fossil fuel industries (if their people are so smart) would be researching for ways to utilize their resources for something other than burning them to generate power.

      Look at what Booker T. Washington did with the lowly peanut.

    3. “The notion that renewable energies and batteries alone will provide all needed energy is fantastical. It is also a grotesque idea, because of the staggering environmental pollution from mining and material disposal, if all energy was derived from renewables and batteries.”

      – James Hansen, formerly of NASA, 2018

      1. Nobody has ever proposed “renewables alone” in the short term.

        NASA isn’t exactly known for being a power expert either. For the last 30 years, this SOCIALIST agency has done nothing but burn taxpayers cash.

        Anybody with a brain has advocated that governments stop subsidizing fossil fuels and moon shots and get out of the way for sustainable technical innovation. Governments are overwhelmingly owned by incumbent corporations so the big bad evil regulations they whine about was actually written by themselves to prevent new market entrants. Now in the US, corruption is near a historic high. Looks like the current administration won its election by gerrymandering and lying to coal miners. Trump has his lips so firmly wrapped around Saudi Arabian cock, he cannot imagine a plan for powering his nation without foreign oil. Thus other forward thinking nations will be light years ahead with cost effective clean infrastructure before the USA wakes up. A drive through any small town in the US proves the debts are out of control, you yanks can’t even pave your streets. You’ll still be sucking the last drops of your SOCIALIST “strategic national petroleum reserve” when the rest of the world zips around on clean flying Jetsons pods.

        NASA is dead. It has been replaced by private companies funded by Apple’s tech rivals.

        1. Nobody has ever proposed “renewables alone” in the short term.

          They propose renewables alone in the near future otherwise, bad weather will be more common.

          Anybody with a brain has advocated that governments stop subsidizing fossil fuels and moon shots and get out of the way for sustainable technical innovation.

          If renewable energy was so great and cheap, it wouldn’t need to be heavily government subsidized. It’s a shitty energy ‘solution’ unless you want to live with intermittent power.

      2. Cramer,

        That is a truly bizarre quotation out of context. Hansen is the guy who first testified to Congress about global warming in 1988. Both within NASA and since his retirement, he has been the most prominent public opponent of fossil fuels such as both coal and petroleum.

        His solution is to raise taxes on all fossil fuels high enough to force a movement to conservation and nuclear. He doesn’t oppose renewables; he just insists that they are not even a partial solution without the other steps.

        To suggest that Hansen would oppose restrictions on diesel cars is absurd.

        1. I did not (nor intended to) suggest “that Hansen would oppose restrictions on diesel cars.”

          I’m just pointing out that intermittent renewable energy such as wind and solar aren’t viable energy solutions.

          1. “I’m just pointing out that intermittent renewable energy such as wind and solar aren’t viable energy solutions.”

            Exactly right. The green dreamers are often ignorant of the facts…

      3. James Hansen is a stooge for the dying nuclear power industry, which has been shown uneconomical even before Fukishima exposed the weaknesses of recent nuke plant design. Thats why there hasn’t been hardly any new nukes built in 3 decades. It costs so much more for nuke power plant construction and fuel, plus the army to guard the spent nuclear fuel, that nuclear electricity makes no sense at all.

        Speaking of which, how’s the cleanup going at Hanford? That should be an embarrassment. One would think that somebody in America would want to get that disaster contained pronto.

        It would cost American taxpayers less to reroof all their buildings with solar panels than it will to build one new nuclear power plant and a secure nuke storage site that will permanently store all the scattered nuclear waste than nobody wants to know about. Tweet that out, Hansen.

        Sooner than later, electricity will have to be 100% renewables. It is economical today. Transportation and home heating will be oil and gas for two generations to come. Electric cars only make sense in urban settings but that too will evolve.

        1. Sarah,

          It costs more for nukes to be built in large part because of enviro lawsuits and regulations which are used precisely to delay their construction and/or make them more expensive.

          What effect did increasing enviro regulations have on manufacturing in the 70s and on? They helped close plants here and their jobs moved offshore. Regs are a way of moving jobs to outer countries and the rich people who back, finance, or run these companies, profit. Indeed, the environmental movement is by a large, a product of rich people, families, and foundations (Rockefeller, Steyer, Soros, and many others).

          By the way, I’m no fan of nuclear because of the waste issue and safety issue. I also don’t thin CO2 is pollution, it’s plant and tree food. And it’s also not the earth’s temperature control knob or bad weather control knob.

          Wind and solar aren’t going to give us 24/7/365 energy by themselves. Come up with something better and I’m on board.

  6. Oh! I know! If enough politicians can be corralled into a factory, their hot air could be used as a source to power Apple battery manufacture. CEOs would pay top dollar for air from the likes of Obama and Trump, not so much from Bush who spoke in clipped sentences.

  7. It should also be noted that no matter how pro-coal Trump is, he doesn’t have the cash to bail out the obsolete industry.

    The Trump administration’s desire to subsidize coal (read: market manipulation, formerly a bad thing among conservative circles) is stalled because he doesn’t have the money to do so. In 2018, the right wing tax giveaway that was sold as a miracle economic plan that would pay for itself has ballooned the federal deficit 17%, for a grand total of $779 billion in the red. Brilliant businessman Trump is already overspending and wants massive increases in military overspending, even while he is too stupid to relocate F-22 airplanes that were sitting ducks for Hurricane Michael to damage.

    But we digress. The USA has an ugly debt problem and can’t afford to bail out industries that cannot justify their continued existence. Even though coal is near and dear to Trump’s circa 1880 mindset, the electricity industry has moved on. In 2017, US utilities shut down about 9,000 megawatts of coal plants. 14,000 megawatts are slated to be closed in 2018. Gas and renewables are easily replacing coal at a lower cost. There is only one major coal importer left: China. Trump claims he wants to stop China’s economic abuse of the USA. By doing what, giving them coal?

    Gasoline and electricity will continue to power cars for decades to come. Coal will not.

    1. Conventional and dirty nuke power is also obsolete; It’s just that the Socialist nuke power industry and its adherents, OKA investors, do not want to bury that dying corpse prematurely until its tailings irradiate more and more land and water and air. It’s Socialist program because Congress has indemnified it from any pain, suffering, and damage caused as a result of accidents. But at least Apple is on the right track.

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