It is “inconceivable” that electric vehicles could be as polluting as conventional cars, new research has found, dismissing recent speculation that electric vehicles emit similar rates of CO2 to diesel vehicles when battery manufacturing is taken into account.

Instead, further decarbonisation in the UK could drive EV emissions down to 10% of conventional vehicles in the next five years.

Research by Imperial College London for Drax Electric Insights found that on average, EVs in Britain emit half the CO2 of diesel cars when the manufacturing of the battery is included and just 25% without.

After two to three years, the carbon emitted in battery production for the most efficient EVs would be saved.

This is being driven by the energy transition, with the report pointing to recent coal-free weeks and record-breaking performance of renewables that saw the carbon intensity of the grid tumble to a record low of 39g CO2/kWh.

As the UK’s decarbonisation ramps up in line with the net zero target, the CO2 being emitted by EVs could fall to a tenth of the CO2 of conventional cars within the next five years, the research found.

It is “inconceivable” that EVs could be as polluting as conventional cars, the report said. For this to be the case, it would require electricity to have a carbon intensity of around 850–950g/kWh, values not seen since the 1960s.

With Britain’s current grid carbon intensity of 205g CO2/kWh, smaller EVs will take between 2 and 4 years to save the amount of CO2 emitted in manufacturing their batteries. Larger models will be between 5 and 6 years, but as decarbonisation continues, this payback time will continue to fall.

Iain Staffell from Imperial College London said EVs “simply cannot” be more polluting than their conventionally-fueled equivalents.

“EVs have real potential to reduce our carbon footprint and help meet our net-zero carbon ambitions – despite some speculation about how clean they really are.

“Any EV bought today could be emitting just a tenth of what a petrol car would in as little as five years’ time, as the electricity it uses to charge comes from an increasingly low-carbon mix,” he added.

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