The EV Grass Isn’t Always Greener

In some regions, an EV emits more carbon than an internal combustion engine vehicle.

March 16, 2022

Electric Vehicle Engine

By Sara Counihan

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—Between President Biden’s electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure plan release and gas prices at record highs, conversations and traction surrounding EVs are increasing. But how do EVs relate to internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles in terms of charging and life cycles? This week’s Convenience Matters podcast episode answers this question and more.

John Eichberger leads the Fuels Institute, and the question he is often asked is why the push for EVs? After all, they’re not always a greener solution than an ICE vehicle because most U.S. electricity comes from fossil fuels. It’s much more carbon intensive to manufacture an EV than an ICE vehicle. Eichberger said the Fuels Institute published a report to look at the life-cycle carbon emissions of electric, combustion and hybrid electric vehicles.

“From the point of sourcing the materials, mining the lithium, drilling the oil, getting the aluminum, building the vehicle, running a hundred thousand miles and then getting rid of the vehicle, we wanted to understand the contribution of emissions from the energy, the fuel, the electricity used in [EVs],” said Eichberger on this week’s episode. “And then from there … looking at how do we reduce emissions in a meaningful and efficient way?”

According to Eichberger, 73% of the life-cycle emissions from an ICE vehicle occur during motion when the vehicle is burning the liquid fuel to move the vehicle down the road. By contrast, 72% of all the emissions associated with the electric vehicle come from electricity generation.

“And why is that important? Because now if we want to reduce emissions, now we know where to focus. You focus on the big chunks. You focus on bringing a low carbon fuel to the market for the combustion engine vehicle and improving the efficiency of the combustion engine,” said Eichberger.

The amount of carbon emitted from an ICE vehicle versus an electric vehicle varies depending on U.S. region. On average, assuming a vehicle runs 200,000 miles, the battery electric vehicle emits 41% less carbon than an ICE vehicle, while a hybrid vehicle, which doesn’t require any infrastructure, emits 29% less carbon than an ICE vehicle.

But looking at a market where lots of coal power plants are operating, West Virginia and Southwest Virginia for example, an electric vehicle with over 200,000 miles emits 16% more carbon than an ICE vehicle; however, in the Pacific Northwest where there is more renewable energy, an EV emits 73% less carbon.

“We need to start thinking about strategic deployment,” said Eichberger. “Maybe electric vehicles make a lot of sense for the environment in Seattle [but not] in other markets, and we need to be much more prescriptive about how we deploy our strategies.”

“Maybe in some of these markets, hybrid vehicles make the best sense or maybe even just an efficient combustion engine vehicle. So, it really is looking at the data and realizing one size fits all strategies can’t work,” he said.

Don’t miss this week’s episode No. 327 “Where Do EVs Make the Most Sense?,” as Eichberger discusses President Biden’s goal to stop selling new ICE vehicles by 2035, why there were so many EV commercials during the Super Bowl, charging range anxiety and what the next big thing is for transportation—beyond electric vehicles.

For more Convenience Matters podcast episodes on EVs, listen to episode No. 313 “Reimagining an EV Charging Experience,” episode 305 “Building an EV Infrastructure” and episode No. 286 “RINs, RFS and EVs and What They Mean to the Fuels Sector.”

Sara Counihan is contributing editor of NACS Daily and NACS Magazine. Contact her at