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Fact-checking claims about electric vehicles and their carbon footprint

A viral Facebook post makes several claims about the carbon footprint of electric cars. The VERIFY team broke down the claims.

The federal government and some states are offering incentives to drive sales of electric vehicles. In August, President Joe Biden set a goal for electric vehicles to make up half of the new vehicles sold in the U.S. in 2030.

But several viewers sent VERIFY a Facebook post that has been shared at least 1,900 times and claims electric cars actually have a massive carbon footprint.

VERIFY broke down three of the claims in the post to determine what’s accurate and what isn’t.


“Total fuel consumption of U.S. airlines is approximately 19 billion gallons annually.”



This is true.

This statistic is accurate for 2019 fuel consumption prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.


The Bureau of Transportation Statistics tracks airline fuel costs and consumption by U.S. carriers. According to its data, U.S. airlines consumed 18.27 billion gallons of fuel in 2019 – the most since 2007.

In 2020, total fuel consumption by U.S. airlines dropped to 10.28 billion gallons, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, as fewer people flew because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

From January through August of 2021, U.S. airlines consumed about 8.7 billion gallons of fuel, an increase of 24% compared to the same time period in 2020.


“Total fuel consumption for mining ore for construction of electric car batteries is approximately 21 billion gallons annually. The 21 billion gallons of fuel burned can only produce enough ore to build 250,000 electric car batteries.”



This is misleading.

No detailed analysis has been done to conclusively determine the accuracy of the claim, but an electric vehicle expert VERIFY talked to said the math doesn’t add up.


There is no single data source that tracks this information.

David Checkel, a professor at the University of Alberta and an electric car expert, did some back-of-the-napkin math to dispute the claim. Checkel calculated that if each gallon of fuel costs $3, then 21 billion gallons would cost $63 billion annually. If $63 billion was the price tag for 250,000 batteries, then the cost of raw materials for each battery would be more than $250,000.

Checkel says that number would be “ridiculously high” when compared to the cost of purchasing an electric vehicle. The MSRP of the Tesla Model 3, which the U.S. Department of Energy says was the best-selling plug-in electric vehicle in the U.S. in 2018 and 2019, is $41,990.

A detailed analysis would be needed to conclusively prove this as false, so we’re rating this claim as misleading.


“The lifespan of an electric battery is 10 years and is not renewable. By 2050 these batteries will fill landfills with 50 million pounds of waste that does not break down.”



This is misleading.

The lifespan of a car battery varies by manufacturer. Many car batteries are currently recycled, and the recycling rate of the increasingly popular lithium-ion electric car batteries is expected to improve in the coming years.


Automobile manufacturer Renault estimates the lifespan of its batteries is 10 years for automotive use. The carmaker says the battery can then be used for stationary purposes like storing power in places other than a car for up to an additional 10 years.

The exact lifespan can vary by manufacturer.

As for the second part of the claim, the 50-million figure may have originated from a 2019 study on electric vehicles by the American Petroleum Institute, but was taken out of context. The authors were explaining how one recycling company processed 50 million pounds of batteries in one year and repurposed them.

Checkel said nearly all automotive batteries are currently being recycled. There is concern about the future recycling of lithium-ion batteries, which he said are likely to dominate the electric car world.

Estimates in 2019 suggested less than 5% of lithium-ion batteries were being recycled.

But Checkel said once the auto industry determines which recycling process is most material-efficient and cost-efficient, he expects the materials from electric vehicle batteries “will enter a recycling loop and will definitely be reused.”

The Federal Consortium for Advanced Batteries, which is led by the departments of energy, defense, commerce, state and other government organizations, released a report in 2021 that aims for a 90% recycling rate of lithium-ion batteries by 2030, including those used in electric vehicles. 

Tesla says 100% of its scrapped lithium-ion batteries are recycled. Ford announced in September 2021 that it partnered with battery materials company Redwood Materials to improve its recycling of electric vehicle batteries.

“Redwood’s recycling technology can recover, on average, more than 95% of the elements like nickel, cobalt, lithium and copper,” Ford said. “These materials can be reused in a closed-loop with Redwood moving to produce anode copper foil and cathode active materials for future battery production.”

More from VERIFY: No, electric cars are not worse for the environment than gas-powered cars

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