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New, independent report on life-cycle impacts of road vehicles confirms environmental benefits of electric powertrains

Tue 01 September 2020 | Back to news list

Ricardo, E4tech and the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research Heidelberg (ifeu), have delivered an innovative and comprehensive lifecycle assessment of road vehicles on behalf of the European Commission. As we transition to the electrification of vehicles and other new fuels it is more important to use life-cycle assessment (LCA) approaches in assessing the relative impacts of different options on an holistic basis.
Ricardo says that the study is believed be the broadest and most comprehensive study of its kind to date.  Most significantly, the findings from the work confirm the significant environmental benefits of electrified powertrains (particularly of battery electric vehicles) for all of the road vehicle types assessed. 
Nikolas Hill, project manager and knowledge leader in transport technology and fuels in Ricardo’s sustainable transport team said: “Our assessment has shown that over their entire life-cycle in the EU, new electric vehicles are expected to have significantly lower impacts on the climate compared to conventional combustion engined vehicles,” commented .
“The study also highlights key environmental impact hotspots for different road vehicle types, and illustrates the variability in impacts expected for different use cases local conditions in European countries, particularly due to differences in the carbon intensity of the national electricity generation mix.”
The report assesses the lifecycle impacts of representative European light and heavy duty vehicle types (cars, vans, lorries, buses and coaches) with 65 different vehicle types and powertrain combinations. It considers the production of 60 fuel chains for conventional and alternative fuels as well as 14 different forms of electricity generation, the impacts of vehicle (and battery) manufacturing, and vehicle use and maintenance including different ‘end of life’ scenarios.
In addition to greenhouse gas emissions, the report also assesses a number of other environmental impact categories, ranging from resource use, including cumulative energy consumption, mineral and metal resource depletion and water scarcity, to airborne pollutant emissions (like particulates and nitrogen oxides), and human- and eco-toxicity.
The findings from the report also highlight the positive impact of existing European Union policy in directly supporting the move to a more circular economy and the initiatives aimed at developing a sustainable value chain for hybrid and fully electric vehicles and their batteries in driving down industrial emissions and improving resource efficiency.
The analysis also identifies further opportunities to improve existing policy instruments, such as in the areas of battery re-use or recycling and to further incentivise improvements in the operational energy efficiency of electric powertrains.
A Vehicle LCA Results Viewer has also been published alongside the report on DG Climate Action’s website, allowing stakeholders to explore the complete set of results for electricity production, fuels production and the overall vehicle LCA. 
Ricardo has worked closely with LowCVP on life-cycle assessment in the past, including: 
  • Impacts & opportunities from LCA and possible future policy (2019) (Download link)
  • Understanding the life-cycle GHG emissions for different vehicle types and powertrain technologies' (2018) (Download link)
  • 'Preparing for a life-cycle CO2 measure' (2011) (news link)

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