Source: ICCT 2021

The International Council on Clean Transport (ICCT) recently released a far-reaching new study of the life-cycle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from passenger cars, including SUVs. The study draws sharp and meticulous distinctions between the climate impacts of battery and fuel cell electric vehicles on one hand and combustion vehicles on the other.

The detailed findings can be summarized straightforwardly. Only battery electric vehicles (BEVs) and fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) powered by renewable electricity can achieve the kind of deep reductions in GHG emissions from transportation that comport with the Paris Agreement’s goal of keeping global warming well below 2 °C. There is no realistic pathway to that goal that relies on combustion-engine vehicles, including hybrids of any sort.

The study, carried out by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT), analyzes present and projected future GHG emissions attributable to every stage in the life cycles of both vehicles and fuels, from extracting and processing raw materials through refining and manufacture to operation and eventual disposal. The analysis was performed separately and in depth for the European Union, the United States, China, and India, and captured the differences among those markets, which together account for about 70% of new car sales worldwide.

The study methodology considers lifetime average carbon intensity of fuel and electricity mixes, and accounts for changes in the carbon intensity over vehicle lifetime given present energy policies. It also looks at real-world usage rather than relying on official test values to estimate fuel and electricity consumption; this is especially important in assessing GHG emissions of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs). It uses the most recent data on industrial- scale battery production and considers regional supply chains, which results in significantly lower estimates of GHG emissions from battery production than other studies have found. And it factors in the near-term global warming potential of methane leakage in natural gas and natural gas-derived hydrogen pathways.

The comprehensive study can be accessed on the ICCT website.

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