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Who's ready for more data to bring to the next "long tailpipe" argument? Here you go: Electric and hybrid vehicles generate more carbon emissions than conventional vehicles during the manufacturing process, but still have a smaller carbon footprint overall, according to a report prepared by Ricardo for the UK's Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership.

For example, the report indicates that a typical mid-size family sedan generates approximately 24 tons of CO2 during its entire life cycle. Meanwhile, Ricardo claims that an electric vehicle creates about 19 tons of CO2 over its lifespan, with 46 percent of its total carbon footprint generated at the factory before the vehicle has even rolled off the assembly line.

Greg Archer, LowCVP managing director, sums up the significance of Ricardo's findings like this:

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 life cycle. The automotive industry is already taking positive steps to address this issue.

The report will be released as part of the 2011 LowCVP Conference on June 9th, and we'll have to dig into the details to see exactly how these numbers were calculated. For more info related to this study, check out LowCVP's press release posted after the jump.

[Source: LowCVP]
Show full PR text
LowCVP study demonstrates the increasing importance of measuring whole life carbon emissions to compare vehicle performance

ELECTRIC and hybrid cars create more carbon emissions during their production than standard vehicles – but are still greener overall, according to a new report.

The report highlights the increasing importance of accounting for whole life carbon emissions to compare the greenhouse gas emissions of low carbon vehicles. The report was prepared by Ricardo1

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. However, overall electric and hybrid vehicles still have lower carbon footprints than normal cars. for, and in collaboration with, the expert membership of the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership that includes major vehicle manufacturers and oil companies.

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% of its total carbon footprint is generated at the factory, before it has travelled a single mile.

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.

"The automotive industry is already taking positive steps to address this issue - the recent announcement by Toyota of a solar array to provide electricity to power the hybrid Auris production facility and wind power at the Nissan Leaf plant are excellent examples of this.

1 Ricardo is a leading global provider of product innovation, engineering solutions, clean technology and strategic consulting
For a standard mid-sized gasoline ICE (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% 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.

The report also indicates that lifecycle carbon emissions for mid-sized petrol and diesel vehicles doing a similar lifetime mileage are almost identical – the greater efficiency of the diesel being offset by high production emissions. It also highlights that some regulations designed to improve recyclability, safety or reduce air pollution can increase carbon emissions in production or use.

Ricardo Chief Technology & Innovation Officer and Chairman of the LowCVP, Prof. Neville Jackson, 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.
"Life cycle analysis is still in its infancy, with little defined process and standards. The Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership report is an important contribution to this type of analysis and highlights the need to work toward a common methodology and approach to deliver consistent and robust life cycle data on CO2 emissions."

As a wider range of electric, biofuel and potentially hydrogen vehicles compete with petrol and diesel models in the future it will become essential to compare vehicles on a whole-life carbon basis. The study shows the complexity, but also the practicalities of calculating whole life carbon emissions and highlights the need to develop a standard methodology acceptable to vehicle manufacturers.

Greg Archer added: "We already measure the whole life carbon emissions of biofuels and doing the same for vehicles is entirely feasible. However, it does require effort to be directed now, at agreeing how this should be done consistently at an EU, or possibly global level."

About LowCVP

The LowCVP (www.lowcvp.org.uk ) was established in 2003 to take a lead in accelerating the shift to low carbon vehicles and fuels in the UK and to help ensure that UK business can benefit from that shift. It has approaching 200 organisations from the automotive and fuel industries, the environmental sector, government, academia, road user groups and other organisations with a stake in the low carbon vehicles and fuels agenda.

The report is being released as part of the LowCVP Annual Conference 2011, "Just over the Horizon: mobility to 2020 and beyond". The conference is being held on Thursday 9 June


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  • 26 Comments
      usbseawolf2000
      • 3 Years Ago
      No mention of MPG or the type of the hybrid used. 92k miles for a life cycle is damn short! My Prius has 145k miles and it is still getting 53 MPG.
      BipDBo
      • 3 Years Ago
      This is the kind of study I like to see. It gives a much more clear picture. 20% improvement from ICE to EV is a bit disappointing though. I didn't see it in my skim, but it does not seem that they factored in the CO2 production from the production of gasoline. To be fair, though, if they did, they would also need to take into account the cost of creating the electricity, including the mining and transportation of the fuel, building of the power plant, etc. This list could just go on and on, and eventually turn out to be a wash. Since ICE technology making great recent gains in efficiency, and there is no foreseen significant improvements in the efficiency of EVs, this 20% difference may actually become smaller. Perhaps the primary motivating factors for EVs should not be environmental (an apparently marginal reduction in CO2), but rather economic and geopolitical.
        BipDBo
        • 3 Years Ago
        @BipDBo
        To correct myself, although I foresee no significant gains in EV operation, there may be efficiency gains in EV production and the production of electricity, but these are not guarantees.
        Dave
        • 3 Years Ago
        @BipDBo
        There would probably be a better than 20% improvement by simply switching from gasoline to CNG.
        Neil Blanchard
        • 3 Years Ago
        @BipDBo
        In the vehicle, electricity is about 3-4X more efficient than gasoline cars. ~25-35% vs ~85% efficiency. The worst electric plants are about 30%, and grid losses are about 8%. The most optimistic "overhead" of gasoline is about 17% (which I think leaves out a lot), the EV will come out way ahead. And when you add things like a large portion of our military budget, well then oil based fuels look even worse. So even if you compare biodiesel to renewable electricity, the car is at least 2X as efficient (~40% vs 85%). Neil
      tmstreet
      • 3 Years Ago
      The study shows that there is no panacea. Further, a follow on study might reveal that it is better to just keep and maintain your high efficiency standard ICE or Hybrid than get an EV ever. Further, even comparing life cycle to life cycle of new vehicles, the savings in CO2 are not enough to have much of an impact on the climate. The emphasis should be on eliminating the need for the auto wherever possible.
        letstakeawalk
        • 3 Years Ago
        @tmstreet
        "The emphasis should be on eliminating the need for the auto wherever possible." Huzzah! Of course, this is a blog for auto enthusiasts, so they don't really entertain that option all that often. I've been car-free for 17 years, personally.
      wardialer
      • 3 Years Ago
      did they account for the oil needed to extract the oil and the oil needed to transport the oil to your nearest gas station? or the refining and blending of the oil into gasoline? most consumers can't make their own gasoline economically, however they can make their own electricity using solar panels... about 3 kW ($15k total for ~200 W panel for ~$500 + inverter) nets you about 4400 kWh (in canada's GTA) annually. according to fueleconomy.gov the leaf uses 34 kWh to travel a distance of 100 miles... so that'll take you approximately 13,000 miles. so their math is still a bit fuzzy. also... i like how eric loveday posted this article just before posting VW's bogus claims about EVs.
      Neil Blanchard
      • 3 Years Ago
      Obviously, they have added the carbon from the production of electricity -- but did they also add the carbon from the production of gasoline? Since a lot of electricity and natural gas are used all through the long path from oil exploration to extraction, to transportation, to refinement, and more transportation, pumping and storage all along the way (which is similar to grid losses!) I can only imagine what the actual carbon footprint of gasoline is! Nissan has said that each gallon of gasoline represents about 7.5kWh of electricity. So, for the electricity overhead *alone*, a Leaf can travel about 22-38 miles depending on how you drive. The Illuminati Motor Works '7' (X-Prize competitor) could go as far as 50 miles on 7.5kWh; and I believe this can be surpassed! So leave the oil in the ground, and use that same electricity directly in an EV. Also, there is the lubrication oil, coolant, and the other consumables (filters, etc.) used for regular maintenance of ICE powered cars. This is non-trivial and needs to be included in any serious study. Electric cars have virtually no regular maintenance; other than tires and wiper blades, which they share with ICE powered cars, obviously. Also, only renewable energy is truly low-to-zero carbon. Nuclear has a carbon footprint that includes uranium mining, refinement and enrichment, making fuel rods, building power plants that use an immense amount of concrete and steel, hot fuel rod storage, dry cask storage, and then plant decommissioning and *very* long term high security storage of dangerous waste -- all of which has a carbon footprint. Electricity *can* come from renewable energy, and therefore gets cleaner over time. Oil is finite. Electricity is virtually infinite Neil
        BipDBo
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Neil Blanchard
        "Also, only renewable energy is truly low-to-zero carbon." Per kW*hr produced, there is not an insigificant amount of resouces and CO2 production in the building of windmills, dams for hydro electric, photovoltaic cells, etc. There are also direct environmental consequences such as windmills killing birds, photovoltaics using land, dams disrupting the natural flow of a river, etc. Per kW*hr produced, these direct environmental impacts are arguably greater than the relatively small footprint nuclear reactor or oil well out in Alaska. I'm am not saying that renewables are worse as a whole than fossil fuels. I'm just saying that they do have impact. Many environmentalists attempt to whistle past the graveyard on this, but that's a bit dishonest.
          Neil Blanchard
          • 3 Years Ago
          @BipDBo
          Photovoltaic arrays can go on landfill sites, on buildings, along highway medians or over parking lots -- no extra land needed, and electricity is being generated locally, and right when we need it most! Ask the people who live within 50 miles of Fukushima about the small affect of a nuclear plant. Or Vermont Yankee, for that matter. How is the Prince William Sound doing these days? What about the fly ash disaster in Tennessee? Or the uranium miners and coal miners? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kingston_Fossil_Plant_coal_fly_ash_slurry_spill Renewable energy can't have a catastrophic failure. There is no ongoing pollution for most. For biomass fuels, all the carbon *came* *from* the atmosphere recently, so it doesn't add any. Neil
          Neil Blanchard
          • 3 Years Ago
          @BipDBo
          Ah, but if the 2nd generation of renewable energy machines are built using power from the 1st; and the 3rd generation is built with the energy from the 2nd -- well you get the idea. There are other renewables, like solar heat, wave power, tidal power, biomass, geothermal, etc. These are all sustainable, as many materials can be recycled, or they return to the Earth without damaging it. We cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Sure, there are some downsides, but we are clever beings, and I'll bet that if we can split atoms, we can figure out a way to keep bats and birds from getting hurt by wind turbine blades. I'll bet just a couple of smoke stacks kill a lot more animals of all sorts than all the turbines in existence. And certainly one "mountaintop removal" site does... And hydro fracking... or one oil spew... Neil
      Marco Polo
      • 3 Years Ago
      Goodness me, and who would have thought that a guy from an organisation called the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership, would discover such an amazingly bleeding obvious fact! What was surprising was the Volt environmental justification against straight EV's like Leaf. Good stuff for GM advertising!
      paulwesterberg
      • 3 Years Ago
      It will be easier to clean up & optimize the efficiency of BEV production that it will be to clean up operation of vehicles after they are on our roadways. And the electric grid will become cleaner over time which will means that BEVs get cleaner the longer you drive them.
        commentssyssucks
        • 3 Years Ago
        @paulwesterberg
        and why only 150k km lifetime for the electric vehicle? Electric motors don't wear out like ICE engines and if you put 2000 cycles on a 160 mile battery pack (Tesla Model S, smallest pack) they should last about 450k km min. That puts the EV way ahead of the ICE car by default.
      Smurf
      • 3 Years Ago
      Quick!!! Somebody call Fox News!!!
      Naturenut99
      • 3 Years Ago
      It's sad that we needed a study to tell us what we already knew. Well, I guess it isnt necessary for us as much as the other Neanderthals.
        Doug
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Naturenut99
        I think we only "know" something if we actually study it. Perhaps you are talking about what you "assume". Assumptions are often wrong and are subject to bias. As a scientist, I appreciate research that helps us to more closely reach objective truth. As for convincing Neanderthals... not sure they appreciate research anyhow...
      letstakeawalk
      • 3 Years Ago
      By the figures, it appears that a PHEV (25.7 tons) has lower GHG emissions over its lifespan than a BEV (27.8 tons). So, if we're simply trying to reduce overall CO2 levels, promoting PHEVs would be a quicker way to reach that goal.
        letstakeawalk
        • 3 Years Ago
        @letstakeawalk
        My mistake, sorry. We're not meant to add the figures! PHEVs and BEVs have nearly identical lifecycle emissions.
      • 3 Years Ago
      Ohmie - the percentage of people that live in an area that can support 100% solar is small, not to mention can afford the expense of a solar farm that large. In addition, a ton of CO2 for Battery powered cars is generated during manufacturing. Nickel for the batteries is mined in Canada, shipped to Europe where it is refined, and shipped to Japan where Toyota builds the Prius. Then the Prius is hipped back to the US. HUGE CO2 footprint! Also, this article doesn't take into account the ecological disaster that exists due to the Nickel mining, nor the next great ecological problem du jour which is disposal of all these batteries when these cars start hitting the junk yard.
      • 3 Years Ago
      It's nice to have hard facts, unfortunately most of the final consumers won't really understand what this means. They need a simple explanation of each type and the benefits they bring to the table so they can be well informed and make the better choices. Ford for example did a great job with this video: http://ecomobility.tv/2011/05/25/what-makes-car-clean/
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