ICCT study: BEVs already emit 70% less CO2
A new study by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) experts finds battery-electric cars already have a better greenhouse gas emissions record than conventionally powered vehicles. This is not only true in Europe but also in China, India, or the USA. Moreover, by 2030, this emissions advantage will further increase.
The study was a wide-ranging life-cycle assessment (LCA) and considered the compact car class over its entire lifetime, so the emissions from the production of the vehicles and batteries are included. Furthermore, the disposal/recycling of the vehicle was also taken into account.
Almost 70% in Europe already
For an electric compact car, greenhouse gas emissions in Europe are already 66 to 69% lower than for comparable new gasoline vehicles. The use of the expected electricity mix for 2021 to 2038 (i.e., the period in which the vehicle would be used) was included. The mileage was assumed to be 234 000 kilometers – covered with one battery.
If the e-compact car were powered entirely by electricity from renewable energy sources, the battery vehicle would already achieve up to 81% lower life cycle emissions than a gasoline vehicle, according to the ICCT.
However, the researchers also assume that the electricity mix will steadily improve due to the EU requirements to expand renewable energies. Therefore, the study assumes that by 2030, the electric compact car will increase its emissions advantage to about 74 to 77% compared to the gasoline car.
Based on the USA’s supply chains and electricity mix, the emissions advantage of the electric car is already 60 to 68% today. For China, with its high share of coal-fired power, the ICCT has calculated a saving of 37 to 45%, and for India, still 19 to 34%.
The biggest factor in all regions is the energy needed to operate the vehicles; the CO2 emissions for battery production, vehicle production, and maintenance over the vehicle’s lifetime are the much smaller items.
The fact that battery-electric cars score so well is also because the ICCT says it used new data on battery production. With today’s more efficient processes and partly localized supply chains, significantly fewer greenhouse gases are emitted than was assumed a few years ago (and thus in earlier studies). The ICCT refers to data from the Argonne National Laboratory, a US Department of Energy research institute.
Specifically, the ICCT calculates that a 45 kWh battery production in Europe results in 2,7 tons of CO2 emissions. In comparison, the 70 kWh battery of an SUV model results in about 4,2 tons of CO2.
The calculation was based on 60 kilograms of CO2 equivalent per kWh. The same value was estimated for the USA. In China and India, 68 kg CO2/kWh was calculated in each case.
“The basic conclusions of our study are ultimately similar for all regions, despite differences in vehicle and electricity mix,” says Rachel Muncrief, Deputy Director at the ICCT.
“Already today, battery vehicles have lower greenhouse gas emissions than conventional gasoline and diesel vehicles. This is also true for countries with a high share of coal-fired power, such as China and India.”
For this life cycle analysis, not only fossil combustion engines and electric cars were compared but also plug-in hybrids, biofuels, SynFuels, and hydrogen.
For all types of drive, not the WLTP consumption figures but real measured consumption figures were used as a basis. However, due to the lower share of electric driving (the ICCT published a separate survey on this in November 2020), the ICCT experts only calculated savings of 25 to 27% over the life cycle for plug-in hybrids and around 20% for self-charging hybrids.
When it comes to alternative fuels for internal combustion engines, the ICCT is skeptical: the addition of biofuels and synthetic fuels (e-fuels) could “not contribute significantly to the decarbonization of passenger car transport” in the coming years.
Fuel cell vehicles achieve a greenhouse gas saving of around 26% as long as they are operated with the grey hydrogen that is predominant today. This is produced by reforming methane and natural gas.
If fuel cell vehicles are operated with green hydrogen produced by electrolysis from renewable energy sources, FCEV emissions are 76% lower than those of gasoline cars. However, the ICCT also points out that running fuel cell cars on electricity-based hydrogen is about three times more energy-intensive than using electricity directly in battery vehicles.
The production of the battery for battery-electric cars has been considered particularly energy-intensive and is, therefore, associated with CO2 emissions. According to the ICCT, however, a lot of energy is also needed to produce the fuel cell, especially the hydrogen tanks made of carbon fibers. Therefore, the production of an FCEV has about the same greenhouse gas emissions as the production of a medium-sized battery.
“Battery vehicles powered by electricity from renewable sources and fuel cell vehicles powered by green hydrogen are the only two technology paths to be able to achieve decarbonization of the European car fleet by 2050,” says Georg Bieker, author of the ICCT study.
Against this background, the ICCT researchers recommend phasing out the registration of new passenger cars with combustion engines in the EU by 2035 at the latest. This coincides with the ambitious plans ‘Fit for 55’ the European Commission had released last week. However, what the member states and the EU Parliament will finally make of it remains to be seen.