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Reduce Climate Change

Highway vehicles release about 1.5 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases (GHGs) into the atmosphere each year—mostly in the form of carbon dioxide (CO2)—contributing to global climate change. Each gallon of gasoline you burn creates 20 pounds of CO2. That's roughly 5 to 9 tons of CO2 each year for a typical vehicle. Learn more...

How can a gallon of gasoline create 20 pounds of carbon dioxide?

It seems impossible that a 6.3-pound gallon of gasoline could produce 20 pounds of carbon dioxide (CO2) when burned. However, most of the weight of the CO2 comes from the oxygen in the air rather than the gasoline.

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).

CO2 molecule with one carbon atom (atomic weight 12) and two oxygen atoms (atomic weight of 16 each)

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!

Data Sources

Physical and chemical properties of gasoline: Department of Energy (DOE), Alternative Fuels Data Center (AFDC), Properties of FuelsAdobe Acrobat Icon.

Vehicles are responsible for over half (51%) of the carbon dioxide emissions for a typical household.

What Can I Do?

Pollution control devices cannot reduce your car's CO2 emissions. You can only reduce them by

  • Choosing a car with better gas mileage
  • Getting the best fuel economy out of your car
  • Using a low-carbon fuel, such as ethanol or CNG
  • Walking, biking, or taking public transit more often
  • Combining trips when possible (also saves time and money)

Reduce your greenhouse gas emissions by choosing a car with better gas mileage.

Graph showing typical carbon emissions by vehicle MPG

We Can Help

Fueleconomy.gov's Find-a-Car feature provides greenhouse gas emissions estimates for each vehicle. Two types of emissions estimates are provided:

Tailpipe CO2: the amount of CO2 emitted directly from the vehicle and a scale that shows emissions relative to other vehicles
Greenhouse Gas Emissions score example: tailpipe-only emissions
Tailpipe & upstream GHG: greenhouse gas emissions (CO2, methane, and nitrous oxide) from the vehicle's tailpipe, as well as "upstream" GHG emissions related to the production and distribution of the fuel used to power the vehicle
Greenhouse Gas Emissions score example: tailpipe and upstream emissions

More Information on Climate Change

EPA's Transportation and Climate Site

EPA's Climate Change Site

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)

Global Warming: Frequently Asked Questions (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration [NOAA])

View Data Sources...

Highway vehicle CO2 emissions based on EPA's Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990 – 2011Adobe Acrobat Icon, Table 2-15. April 2013.

Average annual vehicle CO2 emissions based on Transportation Energy Data Book, Edition 31. Table 11.10, p. 11-15. 2012.

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