At first glance, electric cars can seem like the perfect antidote to petrol and diesel vehicles, whose fumes choke up towns and cities with air pollution. But they can still have detrimental effects on the environment.

As far as greenhouse gas emissions are concerned, electric cars are only as green as the energy used to manufacture them and to charge their batteries. However, a recent study by the International Council on Clean Transportation concluded that over their lifetime (including manufacture) electric vehicles are responsible for fewer greenhouse gas emissions than their petrol counterparts. But this difference was far greater in some places than in others.

In Europe, an electric car generates up to 69 per cent less CO2 equivalent per kilometre than a petrol car. However, in India, this figure is 34 per cent. The disparity comes down to how electricity is sourced in each country.

One of the lowest-carbon places in the world to charge an electric car is France, where only 9 per cent of electricity comes from burning fossil fuels. But many countries still produce most of their electricity from coal, oil and gas, so plugging in an electric car in China or India can indirectly generate a large number of greenhouse gases.

Electric vehicles’ lithium-ion batteries can be an environmental hazard if disposed of carelessly, although they are considerably less toxic than traditional lead-acid car batteries. Unlike lead-acid batteries, lithium-ion batteries are tricky to recycle and liable to explode if disassembled incorrectly. Currently, only 5 per cent are recycled.

Many car manufacturers, such as Tesla, are stepping up their recycling programmes, but it remains to be seen if they will be able to cope with skyrocketing demand as the electric vehicles on the road today reach the end of their lifespan.

Extracted in full from: Are electric cars definitely greener than petrol? – BBC Science Focus Magazine