Carbon Footprint Analysis: Buy new versus Convert to an Electric Vehicle



There have been many questions about the environmental aspect of a new electric vehicle versus an electric vehicle conversion from gasoline.  To dig deeper, we will look at what the carbon footprint is for a new vehicle to be manufactured.  Comparing these two carbon footprints can be a little tricky as the initial environmental harm has already been done during the manufacturing of the gasoline vehicle before it is converted to an electric vehicle.


Another question to consider is, what is more environmentally friendly in the new vehicle market: a gasoline powered vehicle or an electric vehicle?  These lines are more blurred every year with large automotive companies creating a new electric vehicle model using the same facilities and infrastructure as their gasoline powered vehicles.  This aids in efficiency as the facilities continuously evolve to improve assembly cost, labour time, and environmental efficiency.




In an article from The Guardian, the amount of greenhouse gases that are used in the manufacturing of a new automobile are examined.  It would not be a deep enough look to include only the materials and resources used directly for each vehicle.  To get the full story, the minerals that are mined, all the way through to the logistics of all the involved materials throughout each industry, need to be included.


As they state in the Guardian article, the price of the vehicle is also tied to the amount of carbon footprint.  A generic way to quantify the amount of greenhouses gases that any vehicle produces during manufacturing is: 720 kilograms of CO2e released per 1000 British Pounds.


The Guardian provide three examples of different priced vehicles and their related carbon footprint.  The first is the basic spec of a Citreon C1, which is 6 tonnes of CO2e.  The medium spec is the Ford Mondeo, which has 17 tonnes of CO2e, and the top of the line is the Land Rover Discovery, which weighs in at 35 tonnes of CO2e.


What is CO2e?


Just about everyone is aware that CO2, or carbon dioxide, is an environmental concern.  This is not the only contributing factor to the environment.  Using CO2e includes all greenhouse gases like N2O, nitric oxide, and methane which can have more of an effect then just the carbon dioxide.


It is interesting that the author of the Guardian article encourages owners of an older vehicle to hold on to it as long as possible to ensure the lowest cost ratio, which is based on the amount of mileage the vehicle accumulated over the entire life of that vehicle.  Another way to lower the environmental cost of driving the vehicle is to convert it from gasoline to an electric vehicle.


There are a couple of factors to consider regarding the environmental impact of a conversion, namely the components and the electricity generation method used for the ongoing electricity to power the vehicle.  In the United States of America the majority of coal power plants are still used to generate electricity.  In the past, Canada used primarily coal power plants until the 2000’s when the government started to pull back on funding which eliminated these plants after a few years.  As a result the majority of the electricity is generated by hydroelectric dams.


When looking at the components used in the electric vehicle conversions the most contested is the lithium ion battery.  Lithium minerals are mined all around the world; however the majority of the lithium ion battery manufacturers are based in China.  As a result, finished lithium ion batteries would need to be shipped to the buyer from China.  There is also an option to use deep cycle lead acid batteries instead of lithium ion.  There are some countries that are banning lead acid batteries altogether, such as Germany, in order to limit the amount of lead and acid production in gasoline powered vehicles as well as electric vehicles.  The lower energy density that lead acid batteries have compared to lithium batteries is one of the reasons for new vehicles to not have lead acid batteries.




New versus Old Vehicle Comparison


There are arguments out there, like in green car reports, which state that buying a new car is better for the environment than keeping an older car.  It is interesting to see a formulation to justify new car production compared to an already produced vehicle.  It is worth noting that this would be a comparison of new and used gasoline vehicles and not electric.  Either way, there are advancements that are slowly rolling out in new gasoline vehicles to increase fuel efficiency, though every vehicle degrades in efficiency over time whether it is gasoline or electric.


I believe the initial objection to a new vehicle purchase pertains to the supply and demand side of it, rather than the justification for fuel efficiency.  Worldwide 2016 car production was 72.1 million vehicles, while car sales are 69 million vehicles, both statistics are from OICA.  That is an extra 3.1 million vehicles that were produced in 2016 worldwide that did not sell.  If you are wondering if this is too small of a sample group when you look at just one year the numbers don’t lie.  When you look at 2010 there is an excess of 2.2 million and 2.0 million back in 2005.  There are interesting photos of these unsold vehicles which can be found in zero hedge.




When I first saw the photos of all these excess vehicles that were produced, I noticed that they have been made to just taking up space and deteriorating to a point where they cannot be sold as new anymore and would eventually be scrapped for metal.


It is true that driving a older gasoline vehicle is less fuel efficient than a new gasoline vehicle, as mechanical components in the engine wear and it losses its efficiency, I can see that this would be a decent argument to make.  However, rather then continuing to drive the vehicle using gasoline the vehicle can be converted to electric which would this formula that would used in the green car reports article.  Converting to an electric vehicle not only eliminates the need for a new vehicle but it also stops another vehicle from being scrapped.  Keep in mind that 95 percent of all vehicles are reclaimed as stated by Popular Mechanics, though 25 percent of each car ends up in the landfill.




If you can provide a new life to an already produced vehicle it can save a 1/4 of a vehicle from entering the scrap heap, not to mention the added benefit of driving an electric vehicle at the fraction of the cost of a new electric vehicle.




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