The myth of the “long tailpipe” has been disproven by many a scientific study, but, like the flat-earth theory, it will probably never go away. Over the years, Charged has reported on dozens of studies that found the lifecycle emissions of EVs to be lower than those of gas-burners.
The latest dose of debunking comes from Yale University, where a new study found that the total indirect emissions from EVs pale in comparison to the indirect emissions from fossil fuel-powered vehicles. Adding in the direct emissions from burning fossil fuels, whether at the tailpipe or at the power plant smokestack for electricity generation, EVs have a clear emissions advantage over legacy vehicles.
The Yale team also calculated a hypothetical carbon price on those emissions to see what effect that would have on the vehicle market.
“A major concern about electric vehicles is that the supply chain, including the mining and processing of raw materials and the manufacturing of batteries, is far from clean,” says co-author Professor Ken Gillingham. “So, if we priced the carbon embodied in these processes, the expectation is that electric vehicles would be exorbitantly expensive. It turns out that’s not the case.”
The researchers used a combination of life-cycle assessment and energy modeling to analyze the total life-cycle emissions of legacy vehicles versus EVs. Their findings, reported in the journal Nature Communications, show that, whereas putting a carbon price only on direct tailpipe emissions would lead to a nearly complete phase-out of fossil vehicles, taxing both direct and indirect emissions would accelerate the transition.
Furthermore, as the share of renewables grows and electricity sources become cleaner, “large-scale adoption of electric vehicles is able to reduce CO2 emissions through more channels than previously expected.”
“The surprising element was how much lower the emissions of electric vehicles were,” says Postdoctoral Associate Stephanie Weber, a co-author of the study. “The supply chain for combustion vehicles is just so dirty that electric vehicles can’t surpass them, even when you factor in indirect emissions.”