Life Cycle Emissions: EVs Vs Combustion Engine Vehicles

Tyler Durden's Photo
by Tyler Durden
Tuesday, Jul 04, 2023 - 12:30 AM

According to the International Energy Agency, the transportation sector is more reliant on fossil fuels than any other sector in the economy. In 2021, it accounted for 37% of all CO2 emissions from end‐use sectors.

To gain insights into how different vehicle types contribute to these emissions, Visual Capitalist's Selin Oguz and Sam Parker created the inforgapohic below to visualize the life cycle emissions of battery electric, hybrid, and internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles using Polestar and Rivian’s Pathway Report.

Production to Disposal: Emissions at Each Stage

Life cycle emissions are the total amount of greenhouse gases emitted throughout a product’s existence, including its production, use, and disposal.

To compare these emissions effectively, a standardized unit called metric tons of CO2 equivalent (tCO2e) is used, which accounts for different types of greenhouse gases and their global warming potential.

Here is an overview of the 2021 life cycle emissions of medium-sized electric, hybrid and ICE vehicles in each stage of their life cycles, using tCO2e. These numbers consider a use phase of 16 years and a distance of 240,000 km.

While it may not be surprising that battery electric vehicles (BEVs) have the lowest life cycle emissions of the three vehicle segments, we can also take some other insights from the data that may not be as obvious at first.

  1. The production emissions for BEVs are approximately 40% higher than those of hybrid and ICE vehicles. According to a McKinsey & Company study, this high emission intensity can be attributed to the extraction and refining of raw materials like lithium, cobalt, and nickel that are needed for batteries, as well as the energy-intensive manufacturing process of BEVs.

  2. Electricity production is by far the most emission-intensive stage in a BEVs life cycle. Decarbonizing the electricity sector by implementing renewable and nuclear energy sources can significantly reduce these vehicles’ use phase emissions.

  3. By recycling materials and components in their end-of-life stages, all vehicle segments can offset a portion of their earlier life cycle emissions.

Accelerating the Transition to Electric Mobility

As we move toward a carbon-neutral economy, battery electric vehicles can play an important role in reducing global CO2 emissions.

Despite their lack of tailpipe emissions, however, it’s good to note that many stages of a BEV’s life cycle are still quite emission-intensive, specifically when it comes to manufacturing and electricity production.

Advancing the sustainability of battery production and fostering the adoption of clean energy sources can, therefore, aid in lowering the emissions of BEVs even further, leading to increased environmental stewardship in the transportation sector.