2023 Prius Carbon Footprint: Shocking Fact About Toyota Emissions

Georgette Kilgore headshot, wearing 8 Billion Trees shirt with forest in the background.Written by Georgette Kilgore

Carbon Offsets Credits | March 18, 2024

Prius carbon footprint as a giant black foot coming from the tailpipe of a 2022 Toyota Prius as a man looks back and wonders about the carbon footprint of the Toyota Prius.

Have you ever considered the 2023 Prius carbon footprint compared to say… an SUV? Many people wonder about the carbon footprint of electric cars vs gasoline, and whether or not the ‘green’ claims are all they’re cracked up to be.

The shocking fact about Toyota emissions, that many people don’t know, is that hybrid electric vehicles can be just as hard on the planet as their combustion engine, gas-guzzling brethren…it all depends on where the vehicle is operated.

More specifically, where the vehicle obtains the electricity to power its battery.

Calculate the Emissions of a Toyota Prius Right Now

What is the Carbon Footprint of a Toyota Prius? (Emissions Factors Explained)

The fuel used in a hybrid vehicle is only part of the emissions it generates. In fact, there are a number of emissions factors involved for every product that is made, including a Toyota Prius.

Each emissions factor contributes to the overall Prius carbon footprint.6 But, by controlling the way the vehicle is charged, you can reduce it’s eco-impact.

Electricity Use

Electricity is generated using water, wind, solar, nuclear processes, natural gas or coal. But, burning coal is the most prominent method for producing it globally.

So, if you recharge your Prius from an electrical outlet powered by the grid in a country where coal-fired plants are employed, your Prius is likely powered by dirty electricity.

The U.S. power grid uses coal for 37% of its power, and different areas have different sources for generating electricity.

For example, if you plug in your Prius in Tennessee, part of that electrical grid is powered by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), which employs a series of hydroelectric dams throughout the region.

However, if you plug in your Prius in Pittsburgh, chances are that you’re burning coal to get that power source, or natural gas, which can be just as dirty (if not dirtier) than gasoline.

So, although the Prius makes it easy to “charge” the vehicle by offering simple, home plug in options, where you get that electricity impacts a Prius carbon footprint.

In fact, electricity sources impact the emissions on a (plug in) hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV), like the Prius, so much that the U.S. government has an entire interactive page that can help consumers measure it.

The following table outlines the yearly emissions averages by state, based on the electricity grid:

State Plug In Hybrid Electric Vehicle Emissions (PHEV) Average (in pounds of CO2e) Gasoline Vehicle Emissions Average
Alabama 5546 CO2e 11,435 CO2e
Alaska 6034 CO2e 11,435 CO2e
Arizona 5389 CO2e 11,435 CO2e
Arkansas 6429 CO2e 11,435 CO2e
California 4725 CO2e 11,435 CO2e
Colorado 6613 CO2e 11,435 CO2e
Connecticut 4937 CO2e 11,435 CO2e
Delaware 6309 CO2e 11,435 CO2e
Florida 5905 CO2e 11,435 CO2e
Georgia 5572 CO2e 11,435 CO2e
A man charging his electric vehicle

(Image: Maxim Hopman7)

State Plug In Hybrid Electric Vehicle Emissions (PHEV) Average (in pounds of CO2e) Gasoline Vehicle Emissions Average
Hawaii 7152 CO2e 11,435 CO2e
Idaho 4052 CO2e 11,435 CO2e
Illinois 5119 CO2e 11,435 CO2e
Indiana 7836 CO2e 11,435 CO2e
Iowa 5640 CO2e 11,435 CO2e
Kansas 5574 CO2e 11,435 CO2e
Kentucky 8294 CO2e 11,435 CO2e
Louisiana 5889 CO2e 11,435 CO2e
Maine 4602 CO2e 11,435 CO2e
Maryland 5285 CO2e 11,435 CO2e
A photo of Toyota hybrid vehicle with quote on the hood "I love hybrid by Toyota"

(Image: Hermann8)

State Plug In Hybrid Electric Vehicle Emissions (PHEV) Average (in pounds of CO2e) Gasoline Vehicle Emissions Average
Massachusetts 5521 CO2e 11,435 CO2e
Michigan 6116 CO2e 11,435 CO2e
Minnesota 5537 CO2e 11,435 CO2e
Mississippi 5864 CO2e 11,435 CO2e
Missouri 8174 CO2e 11,435 CO2e
Montana 6126 CO2e 11,435 CO2e
Nebraska 6470 CO2e 11,435 CO2e
Nevada 5497 CO2e 11,435 CO2e
New Hampshire 4154 CO2e 11,435 CO2e
New Jersey 4777 CO2e 11,435 CO2e
A man refilling gas of his car.

(Image: Beejees9)

State Plug In Hybrid Electric Vehicle Emissions (PHEV) Average (in pounds of CO2e) Gasoline Vehicle Emissions Average
New Mexico 6323 CO2e 11,435 CO2e
New York 4639 CO2e 11,435 CO2e
North Carolina 5298 CO2e 11,435 CO2e
North Dakota 6947 CO2e 11,435 CO2e
Ohio 6918 CO2e 11,435 CO2e
Oklahoma 5336 CO2e 11,435 CO2e
Oregon 4254 CO2e 11,435 CO2e
Pennsylvania 5868 CO2e 11,435 CO2e
Rhode Island 5906 CO2e 11,435 CO2e
South Carolina 4915 CO2e 11,435 CO2e
A Toyota Prius vehicles are arranged at a toy fuel station, illustrating a miniature scene of a typical gas station.

(Image: bgstaiwan10)

State Plug In Hybrid Electric Vehicle Emissions (PHEV) Average (in pounds of CO2e) Gasoline Vehicle Emissions Average
South Dakota 4119 CO2e 11,435 CO2e
Tennessee 5205 CO2e 11,435 CO2e
Texas 5844 CO2e 11,435 CO2e
Utah 7849 CO2e 11,435 CO2e
Vermont 3302 CO2e 11,435 CO2e
Virginia 5165 CO2e 11,435 CO2e
Washington 3892 CO2e 11,435 CO2e
West Virginia 9068 CO2e 11,435 CO2e
Wisconsin 6885 CO2e 11,435 CO2e
Wyoming 7993 CO2e 11,435 CO2e
A graphic image created to emphasize the global warming.

(Image: ExplorersInternational11)

New Hampshire is one of the states where plugging in your Prius has lower emissions because 56% of its electricity is generated by nuclear power, one of the lowest emissions sources.

North Dakota, conversely, gets 57 percent of its power by burning coal. The same is true for Ohio, which predominantly gets electricity by burning coal and natural gas.

Oregon, Washington and Vermont have most of their electricity generated by hydro power, while Utah primarily gets electricity by burning coal, 61 percent of the state’s power is generated by it.

Keep in mind that these annual emissions are averages, and don’t necessarily represent your exact Prius carbon footprint. Like a flight carbon footprint, or the emissions from your truck or boat, other factors are also involved that contribute to the entire eco-cost of a PHEV.

Gasoline Fuel Consumption Emissions

The gasoline used in an PHEV generates the tailpipe emissions. The Prius powertrain architecture has two engines, an electric motor, and a gas engine. The electric motor drives the car up to 84mph in EV mode (for up to 25 miles) at which point the gas engine takes over.

The car saves gas when it shuts off the gas engine while idling and driving in traffic, relying on the electric power. The battery recharges using the braking system, but also by using plug in power.

Every gallon of gasoline that is burned in the vehicle contributes to its carbon footprint. And while miles per gallon (MPG) rates are often touted, the fact remains that every gallon of gasoline produces a specific number of pounds of greenhouse gasses.

The more gas that is burned, the higher the carbon footprint.

When the Prius came to market, Toyota promised the car would deliver 51 mpg in the city and 60 mpg on the freeway. Public response was good and dealers were happy but soon began receiving complaints that their cars were not getting the claimed mpg.

Prius carbon footprint explained as a white Toyota prius environmental impact answering do hybrid cars reduce carbon footprint

(Image: Johnny_px12)

Turns out the EPA tests the government used to estimate a car’s mpg were out of date. In the real world, the Prius got about 45 mpg.

The 2022 Toyota Prius claimed to get 133mpg when the battery is full, using only electricity. But, new research suggests that may be a dream rate.

Battery Operation and Sourcing (Prius Production and Battery Carbon Footprint)

Another realistic issue with the Prius is the battery production for hybrid and plug in hybrid electric cars, and the vehicle’s overall production. Nickel batteries used by hybrids are environmentally toxic, so today, many electric vehicles employ lithium ion batteries.

Previously, the Prius’s nickel for the battery, which was manufactured in Ontario, resulted in extensive environmental damage. And the manufacturing didn’t end in Canada. The nickel was transported to a European refinery, then to China, and reached its finished form in Japan. The extensive shipping used lots of energy to create the batteries and involves many factories worldwide.3

Lithium-ion batteries offer high energy efficiency and durability, and many of their parts can be recycled. But sadly, despite prizes offered by the government, collecting, sorting and recycling solutions are lacking. In addition, the cobalt needed for the battery is horridly unsustainable, mostly mined in the Congo, where children are often used to dig the materials by hand. Literally. Many human rights groups are working to expose the terrible conditions.

Nickel-metal hydride batteries have a much longer life cycle, but present other operational issues that require attention.

All of these factors combine to increase the 2023 Prius carbon footprint.

Production and Other Emissions Factors

All total, the energy it takes to build and drive a Prius adds up.

However, many people expect this dynamic to change as battery technology gets better and the price of hybrids becomes cheaper.

Production emissions and transport also play a role in the total carbon footprint of a Prius, or any other hybrid electric vehicle. And, research is confirming that because of that dynamic, purchasing a used, low mileage vehicle that offers good gas mileage often has a lower carbon footprint than a brand new hybrid.

Are Hybrid Cars Better for the Environment than Conventional Gas Engines? (Hybrid Cars Pros and Cons)

Prius emissions come from electricity, production, battery mining and replacement, and manufacturing. Some of these factors, especially the electric source and battery, can make answering whether or not hybrid cars are better for the environment a tough question.

Like many questions, the answer always depends on the specifics.

For example, while safe for disposal in landfills, lithium mining and the production of lithium-ion materials are labor-intensive. The majority of parts aren’t recycled, which add to costly environmental impact. This doesn’t exist with a traditional gasoline engine.

Pros and Cons Hybrid Electric Vehicles (HVE)

Hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) are made with two propulsion technologies: an electric motor that runs on a rechargeable battery pack and a traditional gasoline-powered internal combustion engine, like the plug-in hybrid.

However, with a hybrid model, the high voltage battery provides the needed energy to the electric motor that runs the car at lower speeds, while the combustion engine kicks in at higher speeds.

An HEV employs a combination of a high voltage electric drive system and a traditional engine to provide and assist propulsion, while regenerative brakes help recharge the battery. This means that in terms of emissions, they are slightly less harmful than the plug in variety.

Close up of a hybrid electric vehicle engine showing the pros and cons of hybrid electricy vehicles.

(Image: Photoman13)

A plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) with a battery pack can be recharged by using an external electric power source. But, the difference is that the propulsion concept in PHEVs uses the battery to drive the car in full electric mode until most of the battery charge is drained.

Disadvantages of Hybrid Electric Cars Advantages of Hybrid Electric Vehicles
High voltage system repair costs much more than gas. More environmentally friendly over time (depending on electric generation and battery sourcing and disposal)
Higher upfront cost than gas May eventually require less maintenance
Less power compared to standard gas vehicles Resale values may be higher
The driving range is improving

New research suggests that overall CO2 emissions from plug-in hybrid cars are two times more than official tests suggest. 4

However, when a driver charges their plug-in hybrid vehicle with clean energy (electricity generated by sustainable means), they further assist its sustainability.

But, the fact remains, that 60 percent of battery charges are generated by fossil fuels.

One benefit that hybrid cars provide over full electric is preventing the anxiety some drivers experience over a decreased driving range. Because electric vehicle charging station limitations can in turn, prevent long trips, a plug-in hybrid allows drivers to rely on conventional gasoline as a backup when electric charging stations aren’t available.

Hybrids also require less maintenance and save money over time because using electricity part-time decreases wear and tear on any engine.

Pros and Cons of Electric Cars

Many consumers choose a fully electric car over a hybrid because electric cars have zero driving emissions, when charged with a sustainable power source. However, this doesn’t completely erase the carbon footprint of the vehicle. Battery manufacturing, production and transport still combine to generate a carbon footprint for an electric vehicle.

Electric vehicles have the least carbon footprint when charged with wind or solar energy.

Another positive benefit is that electric cars provide a smooth ride with little to no noise. Battery-operated cars also provide more speed and torque and help the driver accelerate and stop safely.

However, an electric car’s battery also creates ecological damage due to cobalt, an environmentally toxic element. Cobalt miners in the Congo experience respiratory illness after long-term exposure.

A challenge lies in recycling and replacing electric car batteries.

Common Comparisons Between Hybrid Vehicles (Hybrid Car CO2 Emissions Per Km)

Depending on the way a vehicle is manufactured, the number of emissions per kilometer (per mile) can vary. Much of this has to do with the fact that electricity is generated by various sources, and how the batteries are produced.

However, a recent study of vehicles in a number of countries found that the actual carbon dioxide emissions of hybrid cars amounted to as much as .661 pounds of CO2 per kilometer more than claims. This means that emissions are nearly 4 times higher than tests, which are used to promote the vehicles.

The main problem is that when the battery is not completely and fully charged, hybrid vehicles were actually less efficient than gasoline cars, requiring more fuel… which leads to higher emissions. The rankings showed that the worst offender was the BMW X5.

  • BMW X5: Claims over 188 MPG (approximately). Actual results showed: 53 (approximately).
  • BMW 2 Series: Claimed 157 MPG (approximately). Actual result showed 45 (approximately).
  • Mercedes GLE: Claimed 313 (approximately). Actual result showed: 102 (approximately).
  • Average of all PHEV: Claims 172 MPG (approximately). Actual result found: 67 MPG (approximately).

Carbon Footprint: Tesla vs Prius

Although the Prius Prime is considered the best buy for buyers needing to reduce their social and carbon impact, the Tesla seems to deliver a bit better environmental results.

The Prius expels 250 grams of emissions to produce one kilowatt of energy from gasoline. Moreover, the Tesla emits 160 grams per mile compared to 200 grams for the Prius.

Does the Prius Have a Large Carbon Footprint?

The answer all depends on the factors outlined above, but in general, the Prius carbon footprint will be smaller than a new gasoline powered vehicle, after the first three years.

Prius vs Hummer Environmental Impact

In 2009, a study found that the Toyota Prius was actually a little worse for the planet than a Hummer H2.

Prius carbon footprint vs hummer image showing hummer green vehicle

(Image: Dustan Woodhouse14)

Independent emissions tests reported that the yearly emissions for both vehicles were startling close. But, these tests were done over a decade ago, and many changes have been made to both vehicles since then.[1]

Lowest Carbon Footprint Car 2023

The Tesla Model 3, Chevy Bolt EV and Nissan Leaf are all in the ballpark for the lowest carbon footprint of a vehicle, and advances are rapidly being made and implemented to each ‘green’ car.

The sad reality about the Toyota Prius emissions, one that few cares to admit, is that the production, shipment, and charging for an electric vehicle still produces considerable amounts of carbon emissions.

As of now, a used car probably has the most efficient emissions (calculate your car’s emissions here) because of the low eco-cost of manufacturing, but the Prius carbon footprint can be reduced when it is powered by renewable electricity sources.

You can also measure your carbon footprint and get tree planting carbon offset programs to erase the environmental impact of an electric vehicle, using the best carbon offset programs to plant trees, which erase the Prius carbon footprint for its lifetime.

Frequently Asked Questions About the 2023 Prius Carbon Footprint

Is the Toyota Prius Environmentally Friendly?

The Toyota Prius is the premier hybrid car in the world, but its production causes more damage to the environment than most cars, which are sourced and produced domestically, over their lifespan. The damage takes place before the Prius reaches the consumer.

Does Vehicle Performance Impact Carbon Emissions?

Yes… but there are conditions. A typical sedan emits five metric tons of carbon dioxide annually, a number that varies depending on a vehicle’s fuel economy and the miles driven annually.

On top of CO2, cars produce methane and nitrous oxide from the tailpipe and hydrofluorocarbon emissions from air conditioners. The emissions are minor when compared in CO2, but the impact is important because of their higher global warming potential than CO2. A vehicle running only on electricity doesn’t emit tailpipe emissions, but the electricity that was used to charge it, may.

Do Hybrid Cars Produce More Pollution?

Over time, no, but whether or not the car produces more emissions is based on a number of variables. Calculating tailpipe emissions is complicated because PHEVs operate on electricity only, gasoline, or a combination of both. A vehicle operating only on electricity doesn’t generate tailpipe emissions. The emissions happen at the source of electricity generation. When a car runs on gas or diesel fuel, it produces GHG emissions based on the simple physics of combustion.

This means that even PHEVs can have their fuel emissions measured accurately, but it must be done on a case by case basis.


References

1Auto By Tel. 2009. Prius Reviews: Toyota Prius vs Hummer H2. 30 March 2022. Web. <https://www.autobytel.com/toyota/prius/2009/reviews/emissions-showdown-toyota-prius-vs-hummer-h2-105357/>

2Green Car Reports. 2018. 2018 Toyota Prius Prime, Tesla Model 3 Take Awards for Lowest Environmental and Social Impact. 30 March 2022. <https://www.greencarreports.com/news/1117018_2018-toyota-prius-prime-tesla-model-3-take-awards-for-lowest-environmental-and-social-impact>

3Stack Exchange. 2022. What are the Carbon Emissions from the Manufacture of Hybrid Components?  30 March 2022. Web. <https://sustainability.stackexchange.com/questions/5916/what-are-the-carbon-emissions-from-the-manufacture-of-the-hybrid-components-of-a>

4Streets. 2022. It Takes 66379 Miles for an Electric Car to Have lower Emissions than Hybrid. 30 March 2022. <https://streets.mn/2020/01/06/it-takes-66379-miles-for-an-electric-car-to-have-lower-emissions-than-hybrid/>

5Myth Busters. 2022. Is the Toyota Prius Really Eco Friendly? 30 March 2022. Web. <https://ecofriend.org/myth-busters-is-the-toyota-prius-really-eco-friendly/>

6How Stuff Works. 2022. Science vs. Myth. Does Hybrid Car Production Waste Offset Hybrid Benefits? 30 March 2022. Web. <https://science.howstuffworks.com/science-vs-myth/everyday-myths/does-hybrid-car-production-waste-offset-hybrid-benefits.htm>

7Maxim Hopman. Unsplash. Retrieved from, <https://unsplash.com/photos/lcysD7F8ycc>

8Hermann. Pixabay. Retrieved from, <https://pixabay.com/photos/hybrid-hybrid-vehicle-hybrid-car-428183/>

9Beejees. Pixabay. Retrieved from <https://pixabay.com/photos/super-petrol-gas-station-refuel-1408490/>

10bgstaiwan. Pixabay. Retrieved from <https://pixabay.com/photos/car-toyota-prius-tomica-tomy-2953059/>

11ExplorersInternational. Pixabay. Retrieved from, <https://pixabay.com/illustrations/global-warming-pollution-3360030/>

12Johnny_px. Pixabay. Retrieved from, <https://pixabay.com/photos/traffic-road-asphalt-vehicle-car-7096874/>

13Photoman. Pixabay. Retrieved from, <https://pixabay.com/photos/car-engine-prius-c-motor-vehicle-231213/>

14Dustan Woodhouse. Unsplash. Retrieved from, <https://unsplash.com/photos/SbqztaE7kac>