For those who follow the electric vehicle sector closely, it has been clear for several years that electric cars are far, far cleaner and greener than gasoline and diesel cars. In fact, that was a top reason the earliest electric vehicle (EV) buyers bought EVs. Oddly, though, there has been an effort for several years to frame that common knowledge as a myth and to claim that, “oh, no, electric vehicles are actually dirty.” I think these stories and claims come from two types of sources: 1) companies and people who are financially threatened by EVs and are aware that the claims EVs are dirty are misleading if not massively twisted, 2) people who haven’t looked too deeply into it and easily latch onto “gotcha! you aren’t as smart as you think” narratives, and who just have a hard time putting things in full context with appropriate weighting.
All of that is just an intro into the “dog bites man” news: another study has found that electric vehicles are much cleaner and greener than gas and diesel vehicles.
“Ricardo experts in sustainable transport — alongside specialists from E4tech and the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research Heidelberg (ifeu) — have delivered an innovative and comprehensive lifecycle assessment of road vehicles on behalf of the European Commission,” the Ricardo team writes.
“Our assessment has shown that over their entire life-cycle in the EU, new electric vehicles are expected to have significantly lower impacts on the climate compared to conventional combustion engined vehicles,” commented Nikolas Hill, project manager and knowledge leader in transport technology and fuels in Ricardo’s sustainable transport team.
Nieuwe studie in opdracht van de Europese Commissie toont aan dat (alle!) elektrische voertuigen tegen 2050 CO2-vrij kunnen zijn – rekening houdend met de hele levenscyclus van productie tot gebruik en recycling. @ricardo https://t.co/IUhyAfkP8I @RicardoMedia
— Maarten van Biezen (@MaartenvBiezen) September 2, 2020
Ricardo delivers major European report on the lifecycle impacts of road vehicles. "A new study commissioned by the EU Commission shows that electric vehicles could be almost CO2-free by 2050" #EV #elbilhttps://t.co/MVf7Z4MdLL
— MagnusKarlstrom (@MagnusKarlstrom) September 2, 2020
If you dig into many of these studies, you can find missing factors or odd assumptions. For example, it has been common to assume batteries are used in one vehicle and then thrown away, whereas it is much more likely that 90–95% (or even more) of the materials in EV batteries will be recycled and reused in time.
The Ricardo team thinks that this new “total lifecycle analysis” is “the broadest and most comprehensive study of its kind to date.”
— CambridgeSciencePark (@CamSciencePark) September 1, 2020
Aside from cars, the report explores vans, lorries, buses and coaches. It explores 65 different vehicle types and powertrain combinations.
“It considers the production of 60 fuel chains for conventional and alternative fuels as well as 14 different forms of electricity generation, the impacts of vehicle (and battery) manufacturing, and vehicle use and maintenance including different ‘end of life’ scenarios. In addition to greenhouse gas emissions, the report also assesses a number of other environmental impact categories, ranging from resource use, including cumulative energy consumption, mineral and metal resource depletion and water scarcity, to airborne pollutant emissions (like particulates and nitrogen oxides), and human- and eco-toxicity.”
Part of the message and purpose of the report is to push for “a more circular economy.” It also highlights the need to help develop “a sustainable value chain for hybrid and fully electric vehicles and their batteries” in order to help bring emissions down even further and improve resource efficiency. (Ahem — battery mineral mining — ahem.)
And, yes, it dives into battery reuse and recycling, including policy initiatives that would support them.
“This has been an extremely important and ambitious project in terms of its scope and scale,” says Nikolas Hill, project manager and knowledge leader in transport technology and fuels in Ricardo’s sustainable transport team, “and we’ve used a range of robust and novel methodologies and datasets to expand understanding in this area. The study has also helped provide clarity on the relative importance of a wide range of key assumptions affecting the environmental benefits of electric vehicles. We’re very proud of the research, analysis and methodology we’ve developed for this report, which will help European policy makers to better understand and subsequently reduce the impacts of transport on the environment and health.”
The full report can be obtained from the European Commission or Ricardo. There’s also a special “Vehicle LCA Results Viewer” available via the European Commission site (link above). This results viewer allows you to “explore the complete set of results for electricity production, fuels production and the overall vehicle LCA.”
Will this report finally put an end to nonsensical headlines like “Electric vehicles may not be as green as you think,” and will it halt the related anti-EV myths that spread across Facebook, Twitter, reddit, YouTube, and other social media sites? Of course not. Ignorance is much more resilient and virulent than we like to dream. But at least you now have another study to refute the false claims, and this one may be the most comprehensive of all.