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Study finds electric vehicles reduce life-cycle GHG emissions, even with carbon-intensive grid mix

Wed 25 October 2017 | Back to news list

A new report from Belgium's VUB University for Transport and Environment finds that electric cars emit significantly fewer greenhouse gas emissions over their lifetimes than diesel engines even when they are powered by the most carbon intensive electricity.  The findings further corroborate LowCVPs previous research from 2011 and 2013. (See links)

According to the new report, electric vehicles produced about 25% less emissions than diesel, when based on Poland's electricity generation mix (one of the most carbon intensive, using higher quantities of coal) and 85% less for Sweden - Europe's cleanest grid. 

Emissions for the UK situation (which is close to the European average in terms of grid carbon emissions) are currently reduced by about 50% on a life-cycle basis, according to the model. 

“On average, electric vehicles will emit half the CO2 emissions of an equivalent diesel car by 2030, including the manufacturing emissions,” said a spokesman for Brussels-based NGO Transport and Environment which commissioned the study (reported in The Guardian).

The VUB study says that while the supply of critical metals – lithium, cobalt, nickel and graphite – and rare earths would have to be closely monitored and diversified, it should not constrain the clean transport transition.
As battery technology improves and more renewables enter the electricity grid, emissions from battery production itself could be cut by 65%, the study found.
The study calculated a full life-cycle assessment for petrol, diesel, compressed natural gas (CNG), liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), hybrid electric, battery electric (BEV) and plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEV). 
The study split a vehicle’s life-cycle into four stages: 
  • vehicle production from extraction of raw materials to delivery of the complete product, 
  • production of the fuel and/or electricity used by the vehicle during its life
  • the impact of vehicle use
  • vehicle disposal at the end of its life

The study concludes that electrified vehicles have, in general, lower energy consumption due to the higher energy efficiency of an electric motor in comparison with an internal combustion engine. However, the carbon saving of EVs also depends directly on the way the extra electricity is produced.

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