THE region's electric car industry last night defended itself from claims that so-called green vehicles have the potential to pollute more than petrol or diesel-powered engines.

The Norwegian University of Science and Technology study said that electric car factories emitted more toxic waste such as carbon dioxide (CO2) than conventional plants. It also questioned the green credentials of vehicles that draw from an electricity grid powered, in part, by fossil fuels.

Furthermore, producing batteries and electric motors uses toxic minerals such as nickel, copper and aluminium, the report said.

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The electric car industry will support hundreds of North-East

jobs when the Nissan Leaf and battery plant enters production in Sunderland next year. A spokesman for the Japanese car maker said the Norwegian report was highly misleading.

"To make a correct comparison with CO2 emissions from petrol and diesel cars, you have to consider the full life cycle of the car and include the CO2 emissions from the production of petrol and diesel," they told The Northern Echo.

"Using the current UK power mix, research indicates that electric vehicles could realise up to 40 per cent benefit in CO2 savings compared with a typical petrol family car in the UK, over the full life cycle.

"In response to the claims made about battery production, unlike other technologies our lithium ion batteries are made of non toxic elements such as lithium, manganese oxide and graphite, which are harmless to the environment.

"The use of our batteries does not end at the end of the life of the car. Nissan is also pioneering research into what we call 4R - Reuse, Resell, Refabricate and Recycle - to give lithium-ion batteries a second life as energy-storage devices, including the storage of sustainably generated energy when it can't be immediately used.

Dr Colin Herron, a low carbon vehicle specialist and visiting professor at Sunderland University said the debate was a distracting sideshow from the fundamental question about how electricity is produced.

"An electric vehicle is actually the same as a conventional car. The main difference is that a highly polluting engine and a gearbox are replaced by a battery and motor. If an electric vehicle is powered by nuclear or renewable energy then the emissions are zero. However; somebody will point out the carbon used to build the power station etc. has to be included.

"People have now evolved with the car and see it as a natural part of their personal mobility. As fuel supplies diminish and costs get ever greater they will seek an alternative. We will as ever get to the point where the population will have to balance personal freedom against factors which are beyond their control such as power generation. It will be an interesting argument to see if any politician will tell the average voter that they cannot have a type of vehicle regardless of cost because the national power generation mix is too carbon intensive.

"Electric vehicles are part of the mix going forward. We can spend years arguing about the carbon impact of extracting lithium out of the ground as opposed to oil out of the ground, or we can stop this sideshow and sort the grid out."