A few weeks ago I was driving back from Washington DC where the big news was Greta Thunberg’s address to the United Nations. Her address got me thinking about my own carbon emissions and just how much carbon dioxide I was adding to the atmosphere by driving on this 2400 mile round trip. After doing a quick search of the internet I was able to make that calculation.
It turns out that the amount of CO2 emitted on this 2400 mile journey from Coon Rapids, MN to Washington DC and back again was about 1714 lbs. This is based on driving my 2015 Chrysler Town and Country which averages 27 mpg on the highway. That works out to .71 lbs. per mile.
The calculation for the amount of CO2 being but in the atmosphere comes from the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Alternative Fuels Data Center (AFDC). I have included their explanation of how much CO2 is produced from a gallon of gasoline below.
I was astonished to find out just how much CO2 I was emitting.
I then looked at comparing this to driving my 2015 Prius which gets about 50 mpg on the highway. This same trip would have emitted 960 lbs. of CO2 or .4 lbs. per mile. About half of the Town and Country.
The point of all this is we make choices when it comes to climate change and one of the biggest contributors to CO2 is the type of vehicle we drive. I would encourage you to calculate the amount of CO2 your vehicle emits. Then use that information to modify your behavior when it comes to driving or the choice of your next vehicle.
It seems impossible that a gallon of gasoline, which weighs about 6.3 pounds, could produce 20 pounds of carbon dioxide (CO2) when burned. However, most of the weight of the CO2 doesn’t come from the gasoline itself, but the oxygen in the air.
When gasoline burns, the carbon and hydrogen separate. The hydrogen combines with oxygen to form water (H2O), and carbon combines with oxygen to form carbon dioxide (CO2).
A carbon atom has a weight of 12, and each oxygen atom has a weight of 16, giving each single molecule of CO2 an atomic weight of 44 (12 from carbon and 32 from oxygen).
Therefore, to calculate the amount of CO2 produced from a gallon of gasoline, the weight of the carbon in the gasoline is multiplied by 44/12 or 3.7. Since gasoline is about 87% carbon and 13% hydrogen by weight, the carbon in a gallon of gasoline weighs 5.5 pounds (6.3 lbs. x .87). We can then multiply the weight of the carbon (5.5 pounds) by 3.7, which equals 20 pounds of CO2!