Research conducted by the International Council on Clean Transportation across the world’s four largest auto markets finds that only battery and fuel cell electric vehicles have the “potential” to meet Paris Agreement goals
Could this be the study that finally puts an end to specious claims that electric vehicles produce as much carbon as combustion vehicles? A new white paper from the International Council for Clean Transportation (ICCT) couldn’t be more definitive: battery electric vehicles registered today have the lowest greenhouse gas emissions over their life cycle compared to all other fuel types. And, the ICCT says, the emission savings are only set to improve with better access to renewable, clean energy sources.
The ICCT data was collected in China, Europe, India, and the United States — the four countries with a combined market share that accounts for 70 per cent of the world’s new vehicle purchases in 2019 — and compares greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions between passenger vehicle types.
The purpose of the study was to understand how the “transportation sector is to align with efforts supporting the best chance of achieving the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting global warming.”
It involved a life-cycle analysis of internal combustion, battery electric, hybrid electric (HEVs), plug-in hybrid (PHEVs) and fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs). Among the key findings:
- Only battery electric or fuel cell electric vehicles have the potential to reduce GHG emissions enough to meet Paris Agreement goals
- There is no realistic pathway for deep decarbonization of combustion engine vehicles
- To align with Paris Agreement targets, the registration of new combustion engine vehicles should be phased out in the 2030-2035 time frame
The report says aggressive and swift action is needed by all countries in order to realize any widespread benefits. “This assessment of the life-cycle GHG emissions of passenger cars shows that to align with the best efforts to limit global warming to below 2°C, the global passenger car stock needs to become almost entirely electric by 2050.”
BEVs outperform ICE vehicles in all markets
The ICCT assessment finds the lifetime GHG emissions of BEVs currently registered are significantly less than a comparable gas vehicle in all markets, even where coal is still the primary source of electricity, with the reduction ranging from 66-to-69 per cent in Europe to 19-to-34 per cent in India.
By 2030, those figures for BEVs registered in that year are expected to rise to between 77 per cent reductions in Europe to 30 per cent reductions in India, with the U.S. and China reductions falling in the middle.
In FCEVs the reduction in lifetime GHG emissions is more modest — just 40 per cent to 26 per cent in the same regions. This is largely to do with the way hydrogen is produced in most countries. If “green hydrogen” were to be used instead of the dominant “grey hydrogen,” the lifetime GHG emissions of an FCEV would leap to a 76-to-80 per cent reduction compared to an internal combustion vehicle.
Phasing out combustion vehicles
The conclusion of the ICCT white paper is simple: there is no realistic way to decarbonize combustion engines — even with hybrid technology — and that it is only adoption of BEVs and FCEVs that may result in the Paris Agreement target being met.
The global transition away from combustion needs to happen quickly with a rule that no new ICE vehicles are registered by the first half of 2030.
“Based on the assessment presented here, BEVs powered by renewable electricity and FCEVs fuelled by green hydrogen are the only two technology pathways that qualify,” says the report. “Hybridization can be utilized to reduce the fuel consumption of new internal combustion engine vehicles registered over the next decade, but neither HEVs nor PHEVs provide the magnitude of reduction in GHG emissions needed in the long term.”
The report goes on to urge that improvements to the larger power sectors through decarbonization will only bolster lifetime emission reductions of all vehicles and encourages recycling — both of the vehicle body and the battery — as another critical element to reducing the carbon footprint of each vehicle.
To summarize how industry circularity is a necessity for success in meeting the Paris target, the report says it is “important for policymakers to understand which powertrain and fuel technologies are most capable of shrinking the carbon footprint of cars — and not only the emissions from the tailpipes, but also from fuel and electricity production and vehicle manufacturing.”