Electric cars have significantly lower climate impact than diesels over their lifetime – study

Electric vehicles emit less greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions over their lifetimes than diesel engine cars, a new independent study has found. Even when powered by the most carbon intensive electricity in Europe, EVs will emit less and those emissions decrease further as more renewable electricity enters the grid, according to an analysis of the lifecycle emissions of the vehicles conducted by VUB university in Brussels for T&E.

While countries like Poland and Germany have significantly more carbon-intensive power generation – due to reliance on coal plants – EVs still perform better there on a lifecycle basis, which includes the emissions in manufacturing the battery and vehicle. Based on the Polish average, an EV emits 25% less CO2 over its lifetime. In Sweden, which has one of the cleanest energy mixes in the EU, an EV emits 85% less than a diesel car.

The study also found that EVs’ sustainability will improve further with battery technology advances and as more batteries are re-used for electricity storage or recycled.

T&E’s clean vehicles and emobility officer, Yoann Le Petit, said: ‘Today an electric vehicle driving on Polish electricity – the most carbon intensive in the EU – still has a lower impact on the climate than a new diesel car. With the rapid decarbonisation of the EU electricity mix, on average electric vehicles will emit less than half the CO2 emissions of a diesel car including the manufacturing emissions.’

The European Commission is expected to include a form of zero-emission vehicle sales targets in its proposal for the cars and vans CO2 regulation. While there are concerns about the availability of critical metals for EVs’ batteries, further research by T&E has found that the supply of metals such as cobalt and lithium will not be constrained in the coming decades and won’t stop the EV transition. In the case of lithium, reserves could last for an estimated 185 years. However, T&E said the extraction of these materials should be certified against high standards to manage environmental and social impacts. In the long-term, innovation will help reduce the quantity of critical metals used in EVs.

Yoann Le Petit concluded: ‘The electric vehicle revolution will lead to a sharp increase in demand for critical metals. But the evidence shows there will be no supply constraints if there are investments in new mines and processes. The industry must however ensure that minerals are sourced sustainably.’

While the Commission weighs up a zero-emission vehicle mandate, the European Parliament’s industry committee has voted for EV charging points to be required in all new non-residential buildings. Although this would only affect one out of 10 parking spaces in new non-residential buildings with more than 10 spaces, the move was welcomed by the Platform for Electro-Mobility (of which T&E was a founding member) as the points will have high visibility in frequently visited buildings.

The vote is inline with the Commission’s own proposed revision of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD). The full European Parliament will vote on its final position in December.