A new Pathway Report by international consultancy firm Kearney, jointly ordered by electric carmakers Polestar and Rivian, warns that without measures to decarbonize the whole well-to-wheel cycle, carmakers globally will overshoot the +1,5°C climate warming limit set by the IPCC by 75% in 2050.
Entirely switching to BEVs across the entire global car fleet and charging them only with fossil-free energy will not be enough to stay below the threshold. Today, supply chain emissions for an EV are approximately 35 to 50 percent higher than for ICEs, primarily due to the additional emissions related to the battery production, Kearney adds.
Not a single year to lose
The report says that passenger cars worldwide account for 15% of global CO2 emissions. To keep climate warming limited to 1,5°C in 2050, the world should limit greenhouse gas emissions by 43% by 2030, according to the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
But without drastic change, the car industry will have squandered its theoretically allocated CO2 budget of approximately 75 to 80 Gt of total emissions left for them, already in 2035, overshooting it by 75% in 2050.
Assuming the car’s share of 15% of global emissions remains the same, spending about 7% yearly of the total global greenhouse gas budget as estimated by IEA to be approximately 500 GtCO2-equivalent (GtCO2e) before 2050. So, there is not a single year to lose to do something about it, Kearney warns.
Tailpipe emissions of passenger cars with an internal combustion engine (ICE) generate 60 to 65 percent of the car’s total life cycle emissions. By eliminating these in a zero-emission vehicle, theoretically, there is still 35% of total emissions to tackle in the production processes of the car and the energy or fuel used.
For passenger cars, BEVs are widely considered the dominating technology, feasible to deploy at a mass scale, although fuel cells on hydrogen still have potential. However, the scale of the challenge is not to be underestimated, Kearnes warns.
To stay on the +1,5-degree pathway for 2050, BEV’s share of sales should grow from 6 percent now to close to 100 percent by 2032. This would imply immense operational hurdles and enormous socioeconomic implications that vary by world region.
And even if all cars were electric, the battery production and the availability of green electricity still need to become zero emission too. That means electricity production must go from 39 percent fossil-free to 100 percent by 2033.
35% larger production footprint
Another important step is doing something to reduce the CO2 footprint of producing the electric car itself, which is 35 to 50 percent higher than for ICEs. The battery (27%) is mainly responsible for that difference, together with steel and iron (16%) and aluminum (27%).
BEVs’ manufacturing and supply chain would need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 81 percent by 2032 to stay on the IPCC pathway. Battery cell production should become 100% emission-free, while the processes for extracting the materials used should be largely electrified (with green energy).
As steel, iron, and aluminum represent 40 to 60 percent of GHG emissions in passenger vehicle supply chains, these industries must also change drastically. Like multinational steel-making company Tata Steel announced in August last year, it will build a new plant in the Netherlands where the blast furnaces will no longer run on coal but on ‘green’ hydrogen by 2030.
Disruptive action needed
It’s quite a dark picture Kearney is sketching, but not impossible to do something about it, they say. “Next to numerous challenges, there are many more variables not covered in this report, including mobility mix, the effect of autonomous driving, and sharing models. Clearly, each scenario modeled is tight and disruptive action is required within the next few years.”
According to Polestar and Rivian, who took the initiative, the Pathway Report was shared with major car manufacturers worldwide to invite them for a first round-table discussion in January.
Anisa Costa, Chief Sustainability Officer at Rivian, said: “The report’s findings are sobering. With the Pathway Report, we want to create the basis for constructive cooperation in the automotive industry to make rapid and larger progress. We also want to inspire other industries to do the same. I am confident that together we can win the race against time.”
Meanwhile, bracing for an EV price war, Rivian struggling to keep its head above the water as a scale-up, decided – again – to cut 6% of its workforce.
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