Ricardo and the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership recently published a report that highlights emissions produced during green vehicle manufacturing. This study presented at the LowCVP Annual Conference 2011 concluded that production emissions for hybrid and electric vehicles represent higher proportions of their lifetime emissions than standard vehicles. The lifetime emissions estimated by Ricardo’s researchers were simulated based on a high-mileage vehicle running on 10% ethanol and electricity. Attendees at the LowCVP Annual Conference 2011 were exposed to the oft-overlooked problem of production emissions, which could derail global efforts to reduce pollution.
The Vehicle Whole Life Carbon Emissions Analysis by Ricardo estimated overall emissions for internal combustion, hybrid, plug-in and all-electric vehicles. A standard gas-powered sedan produces 24 tons of carbon dioxide emissions over 150,000 miles. Ricardo found that 23% of standard vehicle’s emissions are produced before the car leaves the manufacturing facility. This proportion increases slightly with hybrid vehicles (31% out of 21 tons of emissions) and plug-in hybrids (35% out of 19 tons) based on simulations. The battery-electric vehicle simulated by Ricardo produces 19 tons of carbon dioxide over 150,000 miles with 46% of emissions created during manufacturing.
These emissions emerge from inefficiencies in body construction and battery development. The ongoing use of steel as the foundation for vehicle bodies generates carbon emissions during production. Vehicle manufacturers must advance research into low-carbon bodies and components to replace steel frames. Hybrids and all-electric vehicles also require battery packs that offset power produced by internal combustion engines. Battery producers create significant carbon dioxide emissions when producing nickel metal hydride and lithium-ion batteries.
To achieve low-carbon transportation, consumers and legislators need to look beyond the tailpipe. Advertisements for the Chevy Volt, Nissan LEAF and Toyota Prius highlight direct benefits to consumers including lower fuel costs. These glossy commercials should be emulated by utilities, manufacturers and government agencies to point out hidden emissions. Automakers need to adapt their production processes to cut carbon dioxide emissions while meeting safety standards. This approach must be followed by utility firms throughout the world with conversion from coal power to wind, solar, hydroelectric and other alternative sources. Ricardo’s work on production emissions shows that automakers, utilities and governments are still far from contributing to cleaner transportation.