ICCT – Five things you know about electric vehicles that aren’t exactly true

There are many misconceptions about electric vehicles (hybrids are not electrical vehicles). This is just one of the five misconception where the ICCT looks at their climate impact. To read the full report go Here

The International Council on Clean Transportation is an independent non-profit organization providing technical and scientific analysis to environmental regulators

File:Electric car charging Amsterdam.jpg

Photo: Ludovic Hirlimann  licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic

Some dispute the idea that EVs are really much better for the climate than conventional internal combustion engines. Their arguments generally turn on two claims: that manufacturing EV batteries is very energy-intensive, and that the power from the electrical grid that fuels the EV produces just as much carbon emissions as burning diesel or petrol in an engine does. The first claim is true in principle, but much less relevant than is often believed. The second is simply wrong. Even when charged from a dirty, coal-dominated electrical grid, like in China or India, the carbon emissions associated with EVs are significantly lower than for conventional vehicles—especially when considering that the grid can and will become cleaner over time.

Another factor in that misconception is a failure to consider the carbon emissions related to producing and transporting fuel. For gasoline and diesel, these upstream emissions add about 20% to the emissions of fuel combustion itself. In all, considering both production and operation over a vehicle lifetime, the carbon emissions associated with driving a BEV in the United States are about half those of a conventional car (see below). In the EU, they’re only a third. This gap is only going to grow wider as more renewable power comes on-line and battery manufacturing becomes more energy and resource efficient.

The greenhouse gas emissions of producing a typical NMC111-graphite lithium-ion battery vary between 65 and 100 kilograms CO2 eq. per kWh of battery capacity, depending on whether the battery is produced with electricity from the relatively clean European grid, the U.S., or the coal-intensive Chinese grid. For a vehicle with a typical battery capacity of 45 kWh, this adds 3 to 5 tonnes of CO2 eq. to the 7 tonnes of CO2 eq. emitted in producing a conventional car. That is, building a battery electric vehicle is about 1.5 times as carbon intensive as building a comparable conventional vehicle. The difference is attributable to the emissions from manufacturing the battery itself, including all emissions upstream of the actual manufacturing process, such as those associated with mining and processing the raw materials.

But EV emissions are lower in use than those of conventional vehicles. There are two factors in this. One is the electric grid, which is decarbonizing across the globe. The other is the high efficiency of electric motors. EVs require much less energy to move from one point to another. While the internal combustion engine of a conventional car utilizes only 30% of the combustion energy, an electric motor achieves around 80% efficiency in average operating conditions. This high efficiency is also related to the fact that when EVs brake they recover part of the energy that was initially needed to accelerate the vehicle (called regenerative braking). The energy consumption of an average lower medium-segment BEV in Europe, such as an e-Golf or a Chevy Bolt, is 20 kWh/100 km (including charging losses). This is equivalent to using the energy content available in about 2.3 liters of petrol to travel 100 kilometers, or a fuel economy of over 104 miles per U.S. gallon. An EU average new lower medium petrol car, in contrast, consumes about 7 liters per 100 kilometers.

The upshot is that an EV quickly pays back the higher manufacturing-phase emissions. Exactly how quickly depends on the energy mix of the electrical grid where the vehicle is charged—what proportion comes from renewables, natural gas, nuclear, and coal or oil. For an EU average BEV charging with the average European grid, it would take about 18,000 kilometers, or between one and two years for an average driver. When charging with a U.S. average grid, it would take about 12,500 miles (20,000 kilometers). Over its useful life, a BEV charged on the EU grid, average mix, would end up emitting close to two-thirds less greenhouse gases than its petrol-powered counterpart.

The figure below summarizes the climate impacts of passenger BEVs versus conventional passenger vehicles. It compares greenhouse gas emissions in CO2 equivalent per kilometer driven over the lifetime of the vehicle (252,000 kilometers, or ~157,000 miles, over 18 years) for an EU average new lower medium/C-segment gasoline and a battery-electric car charged in the European Union (average grid mix), Germany, France, and the United States.

*See below for notes and sources.

With progress in battery development that can reasonably be expected, especially through more efficient manufacturing, improved cell chemistry, and the use of low-carbon energy in production facilities, the climate impact of the battery production should fall by a third by 2030. When including benefits from second-life use and recycling, the overall GHG emission impact of batteries decreases even further.

*Figure notes and sources: The gasoline car data shown in the figure reflect the NEDC fuel consumption of a 2019 average EU lower-medium gasoline car adjusted to real-world fuel consumption based on the ICCT Lab-to-Road studies. The GHG emissions for fuel production (including indirect land-use change of biofuel production) and combustion are taken from JEC 2020 and the GLOBIOM study. The BEV WLTP electric energy consumption and gross battery capacity correspond a 2019 average EU lower-medium BEV. Electricity consumption is adjusted to real-world using a 119% factor based on ADAC Ecotest (including charging losses). The carbon intensity of electricity consumption over the vehicle lifetime is based on the projected mix of energy sources in the 2020–2038 timeframe, reflecting the assumed vehicle life of 18 years, and a decline in annual mileage of 4% per year. Within an EU average annual mileage of 14,000 km the lifetime mileage of the vehicles sums up to 252,000 km. For the electricity supply, the life-cycle GHG emission intensities of the individual energy sources are median values from the IPCC, and transmission and distribution losses are based on World Bank data. For the EU, France, and Germany, the projected mix of energy sources corresponds to net electricity production in the JRC POTEnCIA tool (central estimate), while for the United States IEA WEO 2020 (new policy scenario) data is used. The GHG emissions attributable to the battery correspond to the 2019 average EU lower-medium BEV gross battery capacity (45 kWh, based on EV Volumes sales data) and a 75 kilogram CO2 eq./kWh carbon intensity of NMC622-graphite cells and an assumed mix of batteries produced in China and the EU. Second-life usage and recycling benefits are not included. “Vehicle” GHG emissions correspond to the production of glider and powertrain (including recycling) and maintenance (5 g CO2 eq./km for petrol cars, 4 g CO2 eq./km for BEVs).

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