Electric, Gas, Diesel & Hybrid: Life Cycle Assessment Of Passenger Cars — New ADAC Report

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The German organization of car owners ADAC has for the first time compared the combined emission balance of all types of passenger cars in a major study. The result: There is no powertrain that generally has the best climate balance, and the electric car is not always particularly climate-friendly compared to the internal combustion powered car. What?

Image credit: ADAC.de

While the ADAC report does acknowledge that it’s missing the consideration of the total air pollutants and resource requirements of raw materials (such as lithium or rare earths), water and land use, it misses one thing completely: electric cars get greener by the day!

The calculations in the report are based on German energy mix numbers that are 5 years old, which frankly makes the usefulness of report questionable.

At which distance traveled will electric cars be more climate-friendly than their fossil fueled counterparts? Well, here are the shocking numbers from the ADAC report comparing cars in the premium segment:

Electric car is more climate friendly compared to:
Gasoline car from 116,000 km (power mix) or from 50,000 km (100% renewables) 
Diesel car from 580,000 km (power mix) or from 70,000 km (100% renewables) 

Well, it’s really a shame this report is 5 years late, because it takes a keen eye to note the low numbers above as opposed to the high numbers. I mean, of course the “more than half a million km” will hit the headlines. Shocker! Diesel cars are super clean!

Anyway, they set out to include these 3 important factors:

  1. The CO2 emissions that originate from vehicle manufacturing and subsequent recycling
  2. All climate-relevant emissions that arise during the preparation and production of the fuel or electricity – in the well-to-tank/battery analysis
  3. The direct CO2 emissions from vehicle use – tank/battery-to-wheel

This is all well and good, but as usual in reports like this, a few things — besides the obvious particulate pollution — are not accounted for. While they do claim that the cost of fossil fuel extraction is accounted for, other cost externalities certainly are not, like devastation of land, climate change, and human suffering. And the fact that electric cars get cleaner as the energy sources get cleaner combined with the fact that electric vehicles last much longer, is of course not relevant. The guys at ADAC calculated the entire life cycle of a premium vehicle — by any propulsion — to be 150,000 km (93,000 miles) and adds:

The ADAC life cycle assessment calculations also prove that vehicles with combustion engines still have great potential. Further measures to reduce fuel consumption, such as in-engine optimization or hybridization, as well as the use of natural gas and synthetic, greenhouse-neutral fuels such as Synfuel or e-diesel, can further reduce fuel-to-tank or tank-to-wheel emissions.

Really? Compared to EVs with a fraction of moving parts running on wind and solar? Come on… OK, to be fair, ADAC vaguely concludes that urgent action is needed to mitigate climate change, that we need to move to 100% renewables, and that EVs win at that point. But is that clear enough for the reader to know what car to buy next? I think not.

Why even draw attention to this report if I believe it does not paint an accurate picture of the emission balance of passenger vehicles? Why should I care? I know EVs are better (or like Nicolas Zart put it last month: Enough with the lies –Electric cars are far greener than gas cars #Basta).

Well, these inaccuracies have to be exposed because a lot of people driving fossil fuel powered vehicles read this ADAC report, and it helps them skip the notion of maybe getting an electric powered vehicle next time around, and thus spend another decade burning thousands of gallons of gasoline or diesel while they wait for the future to arrive.

Sad. The future was supposed to be good.

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Jesper Berggreen

Jesper had his perspective on the world expanded vastly after having attended primary school in rural Africa in the early 1980s. And while educated a computer programmer and laboratory technician, working with computers and lab-robots at the institute of forensic medicine in Aarhus, Denmark, he never forgets what life is like having nothing. Thus it became obvious for him that technological advancement is necessary for the prosperity of all humankind, sharing this one vessel we call planet earth. However, technology has to be smart, clean, sustainable, widely accessible, and democratic in order to change the world for the better. Writing about clean energy, electric transportation, energy poverty, and related issues, he gets the message through to anyone who wants to know better. Jesper is founder of Lifelike.dk and a long-term investor in Tesla, Ørsted, and Vestas.

Jesper Berggreen has 243 posts and counting. See all posts by Jesper Berggreen