Future Cars & Shifting Environmental Burdens


Courtesy of thinkstep

Ask the average person what they think passenger cars could be like in the future and you are bound to get a wide range of opinions.

The more fanciful, looking into the longer term future, might envision an ultra-high-tech world where passenger cars are fitted with “anti-gravity” drives and hover around, powered by nuclear fission perhaps, with zero emissions. But chances are that most people will say that electric or hybrid cars will have some degree of prominence in the shorter term future of the passenger car.

There has been a fair deal of information about electric or hybrid cars in the public domain of recent years and we are seeing more and more of these vehicles on our roads. In many countries (for example the UK, Canada, France, Norway, Japan and the USA to name a few), there are even government incentives aimed at increasing the take up of hybrid/electric vehicles as opposed to vehicles with conventional internal combustion engines (ICEV), running on fossil fuels. The driver (no pun intended) behind this is to reduce/eliminate exhaust or tail pipe emissions of vehicles. This is because measurements of tail pipe emissions are currently widely accepted as the gauge of environmental performance of a vehicle. However, tail pipe emissions are only associated with the use phase of a vehicle. Granted, the use phase of a conventional ICEV has been demonstrated to be the most significant contributor to lifetime CO2e impacts. But is this the case for emerging vehicle drive train technologies as well?

Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership (LowCVP) commissioned PE to carry out the Low Carbon Cars 2020 - 2030 study

This is one of the questions that the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership (LowCVP) sought answers for when they commissioned PE INTERNATIONAL to carry out the “Lifecycle CO2e impacts Assessment of Low Carbon Cars, 2020 - 2030” study. The Low Carbon Cars 2020 - 2030 study was a follow up from the “Preparing for a Life Cycle CO2 Measure” which was carried out for the LowCVP by Ricardo, two of the conclusions of which were that a CO2metric for passenger cars may need to go beyond simple tail pipe measures and that, for a more comprehensive comparison of drive train technologies, a life cycle approach to the environmental impacts of passenger cars should be applied.

Low Carbon Cars 2020 - 2030: a high level LCA study

Low Carbon Cars 2020 - 2030 was a high level, streamlined, single impact (Carbon dioxide equivalents, CO2e) life cycle assessment study, based primarily on secondary data available in the public domain. The study focused on four vehicle drive train technologies within the C-segment vehicle class:

  1. Petrol internal combustion engine vehicle (ICEV) with petrol-biofuel blend;
  2. Hybrid electric vehicle (HEV) with petrol-biofuel blend;
  3. Plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) with petrol-biofuel blend and;
  4. Battery electric vehicle (BEV).

PE INTERNATIONAL worked closely with the LowCVP Steering Group to develop current base scenarios (Baseline 2012) for each vehicle drive chain technology as well as to develop “Typical case” and “Best case” scenarios for each vehicle technology going forward into 2020 and 2030.

The findings

The findings of the study indicated that by adjusting a combination of factors in the production, use and end of life phases, all drive train technologies show the potential for reducing life cycle CO2e impacts from the Baseline 2012 situation. In fact, the ambitious “Best case 2030” scenario had all vehicle drive train technologies on an even keel in terms of overall life cycle CO2e impacts. The use phase and the production phase were seen to be the phases where most reductions in potential lifetime CO2e impacts could be made. However, there was strong indication that, as we move into the future, the use phase for all vehicle drive trains becomes less dominant and the more significant contributor to lifetime CO2e impacts is the production phase. This trend of moving away from the use phase as the dominant impact phase to production is something we can see in other sectors too –construction sector is a good example of this.

The question now is about how appropriate tail pipe CO2e measures will be as a comparator in assessing the “true” lifetime CO2e profile of vehicles in the future. Perhaps a measure which focuses more on well-to-wheel (WTW) rather than tank-to-wheel (TTW) needs to be adopted by the automotive industry as we move beyond 2020?

The snapshot of the report findings presented above can only be considered in the context of the limitations of the high level, streamlined nature of the study. These findings do however serve as an indicator of the potential lifetime CO2e emissions of future C-segment ICEVs, HEVs, PHEVs and BEVs.

The full report is available on the LowCVP website here

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