Report stresses importance of vehicles’ whole-life emissions

A study has confirmed that electric and hybrid cars have a lower overall carbon footprint than standard vehicles but create more emissions during their production.

The report — prepared by Ricardo for the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership (LowCVP) — highlights the importance of accounting for life-cycle carbon emissions when comparing vehicles.

Prof. Neville Jackson, Ricardo chief technology & innovation officer and chairman of the LowCVP said: ‘There is an emerging consensus that we need to move towards a more holistic analysis of whole life CO2 emissions in order to make more informed and better long term decisions on future technologies.’

The study found that some of the CO2 savings made during the use of low carbon vehicles is offset by increased emissions created during their production, and to a lesser extent disposal.

For example, a typical medium sized family car will create around 24 tonnes of CO2 during its life cycle, while an electric vehicle (EV) will produce around 18 tonnes over its life. For a battery EV, 46 per cent of its total carbon footprint is generated at the factory.

For a standard mid-sized gasoline internal combustion engine vehicle the embedded carbon in production will be around 5.6tCO2e, around three quarters of which is the steel in the vehicle glider.

This highlights the importance of deploying low weight, low carbon alternatives to current steels in the ultra-low carbon vehicles of the future. A similar electric vehicle will have embedded production emissions of 8.8tCO2e, 43 per cent of which arise from the battery. Decarbonising both electricity supply, through renewables; and the production of batteries will therefore be essential for electric vehicles to deliver ultra-low carbon lifetime emissions.

Greg Archer, LowCVP managing director, said: ’This work dispels the myth that low carbon vehicles simply displace emissions from the exhaust to other sources. However, it does highlight the need to look at reducing carbon emissions from vehicles throughout their lifecycle.’