How Much Oil is in an Electric Vehicle?

Technology |  2 min. read

What makes an EV (Electric Vehicle) run?

Oil and natural gas.

True fact.  They’re in every EV – every Chevy Bolt, every Toyota Prius, every Tesla anything.

Not in the form of fuel, no.  In the form of high-performance, engineered polymers (a fancy way to say “modern plastics”) made from petrochemicals, which come from oil and natural gas.  (And just for the record, many of those same polymers are also in non-EV cars and trucks.)

The explainers at Visual Capitalist break it down in this infographic:  How Much Oil & Natural Gas are in an Electric Vehicle?

Here are a couple highlights:

Nearly half the volume of today’s cars is made up of polymeric materials, more than a thousand parts all told – which is a good thing.  Today’s engineered plastics are durable and tough (carbon fiber-reinforced composites are actually stronger than the metal they replaced), and they are easier to work with (think adhesives versus welding and riveting) and easier to produce (think molding versus stamping and bending).

Some of the engineered polymers found in EVs? Just look at the interior and you’ll see dashboard components made from acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene copolymer, which is derived from the petrochemicals ethylene, propylene, butadiene and benzene.  ABS is so tough, you’ll even find it on exterior body parts.

And the shatter-proof glass to protect the dials and indicators on your dash?  Believe it or not that’s polystyrene!  Not like your coffee cup, but a special high-performance polystyrene (made using ethylene and benzene) that is tough and crystal clear.

Look under the hood and you’ll see a variety of gears, bearing, bushing and cams made out of polyamide (a fancy word for a family of engineered nylons).  Those polyamide components start with the building blocks butadiene and benzene.  Chemists take those two petrochemicals and go through a series of reactions to make bigger, more complex molecules that can be reacted to make several different polyamides.

We could go on and on, but we think you’ve got the idea.  High-performance polymers are found throughout EVs; and, this trend will only continue as more and more carbon-fiber composites are used for structural components and body parts.  Even NASCAR has gone in that direction!  And yes, even those carbon fibers are derived from petrochemicals, namely propylene.

High-tech plastics also weigh a lot less.  So that half the car volume made up of polymers?   That only represents about 10 percent of the car’s weight.  Less weight means better fuel economy for any car – but that weight-loss thanks to polymers is especially important with EVs, because the battery packs in those cars often add as much as an extra thousand pounds to the car.

The full infographic from Visual Capitalist is below. To view the infographic on their website, click here.