Cars

Electric cars and light trucks have 64% less carbon emissions over their life cycle

Electric cars and light trucks have 64% less carbon emissions over their life cycle

A University of Michigan study, sponsored by Ford, did a comprehensive study of sedans, SUVs and pickup trucks and found that the carbon emissions of battery electric vehicles (BEVs) were 64% lower than those of internal combustion. motor vehicles (ICEV).

According to University of Michigan professor and lead author Greg Keoleian, “This is an important study to inform and encourage climate action. Our research clearly shows substantial reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. that can be achieved through the transition to electrified powertrains in all vehicle categories.

The study, titled “The Role of Pickup Truck Electrification in Decarbonizing Light-Duty Vehicles” and published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, compared the full life-cycle carbon emissions of midsize sedans, SUVs from mid-size and full-size pickup trucks. The study noted that “the vast majority of research attention has focused on the environmental benefits of electric sedans over their internal combustion engine vehicle (ICEV) counterparts,” even though sedans do not represent only 31% of the market and light trucks (including SUVs, pickups and vans) accounted for 56% of sales at the time of writing the study.


Vehicle cycle emissions on everything except fuel.

Maxwell Woody et al.


The study included embodied or initial carbon emissions using a model developed by Argonne National Laboratory called GREET (Greenhouse gas, Regulated Emissions, and Energy Use in Transportation), whose data is modified by the respective weights of vehicles and batteries. It includes everything except fuel; fluids are oil changes and windshield washer fluid.

It is important to note that the battery electric van in this analysis produces just over 16 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e). That’s considerably less than half the amount I estimated in my controversial article “Life Cycle Analysis of e-Pickups Shows They’re Worse Than ICE Small Cars”. Using the data from this study, an electric pickup truck is better than any gas-powered car on the road.

The bigger the vehicle, the greater the savings: an electric sedan saves 45 metric tons over its life cycle compared to gasoline; an electric pickup saves 74 metric tons. As noted in the discussion section of the study: “Although the percentage difference in emissions for the different powertrain options is similar across all three vehicle classes, switching from an ICEV to a BEV results in reductions in “higher absolute emissions as vehicle size increases, due to the greater fuel consumption of larger vehicles.”

The study also looked at the carbon content of the electricity supply across the United States and found that wherever you are, electric cars and trucks still emit lower emissions than ICEVs. This is because ICEVs are incredibly inefficient at converting energy into forward motion. They also note, as I do, that the electricity supply is decarbonizing and batteries are improving, so the numbers will only get better over time.

“The deployment of electric vehicles and the expansion of renewable energy resources like solar and wind should happen at the same time,” lead author Maxwell Woody said in a statement. “The benefit of each is increased by the development of the other.”

The study authors also conclude, as does Treehugger, that electrification will not be enough.

“Although vehicle electrification can significantly reduce GHG emissions, electrification alone is insufficient to decarbonize the transportation sector. Decarbonizing the network and optimized pricing systems will increase the benefits of electrification. electrification, rapid decarbonization of the grid and optimized pricing systems, additional steps may be necessary to reduce transport emissions and achieve mitigation goals, including reducing MTVs (e.g. lowering the demand for travel thanks to teleworking, the increase in the occupancy rate of vehicles), the improvement of fuel economy (lightening of the vehicle, aerodynamic design, improvement of the roll coefficient), the reduction in the size of vehicles (within and between class vehicles), optimal route assignment (matching the e vehicle to the needs of the journey) and switching to other modes of transport (walking, cycling or public transport). »


A look at cradle-to-grave GHG emissions in grams of CO2e/mile.

Maxwell Woody et al 2022 Approx. Res. Lett. 17 034031


In a previous article, considered by many readers to be the dumbest Treehugger article ever, I concluded that a small gas-powered car would have lower lifecycle emissions than a large pickup truck. electric. I calculated the sedan’s emissions to be 258 grams of CO2 per kilometer (413 grams of CO2 per mile), which is not inconsistent with the results of this study of 373 to 420 grams of CO2 per mile . However, based on a much higher initial carbon estimate for the BEV pickup, I calculated that it had emissions of 262 grams of CO2 per kilometer (420 grams of CO2 per mile). if you accept that study’s estimate for picking up 182-207 grams of CO2 per mile then my thesis was incorrect, although I still find the vehicles emissions cycle, comparable to the initial carbon of 16 metric tons , is surprisingly low.

However, a fundamental part of my thesis remains true: electric vans still have a significant carbon footprint, 41% higher than an electric sedan. That’s why the study authors concluded that weight reduction, aerodynamics, downsizing of vehicles, or switching to walking or cycling are still important. The full lifecycle emissions of a continent full of electric vans are still too high.