School of Civil Engineering

This article was originally published on The Conversation and was written by Dr Jake Whitehead from The University of Queensland.

Despite the overwhelming evidence that electric vehicle technology can deliver significant economic, environmental and health benefits, misinformation continues to muddy the public debate in Australia.

An article in The Australian recently claimed that on the east coast electric vehicles are responsible for more carbon dioxide emissions than their petrol counterparts.

The findings were largely attributed to Australia’s reliance on coal-fired power to charge electric vehicles. The report on which the article was based has not been publicly released, making it difficult to examine the claim.

So instead, let’s review the available evidence.

First, let’s get the maths right

Vehicles create two types of emissions: greenhouse gases and noxious air pollution.

Petrol and diesel vehicles produce the majority of emissions when they are being driven. These are known as “tank-to-wheel” or exhaust emissions, and contribute to both climate change and poor air quality.

Then-Labor leader Bill Shorten at an event to announce Labor’s electric vehicle policy ahead of the May 2018 federal election. AAP

Traditional vehicles also generate emissions through the production and distribution of their fuel, known as “well-to-tank” or upstream emissions.

To comprehensively measure a vehicle’s total emissions, we combine upstream and exhaust emissions to obtain “well-to-wheel” emissions, otherwise known as the fuel lifecycle emissions.