Vehicle Emissions Impact Indicator

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What is this Indicator?
It’s an interactive tool that lets you make decisions on the engine your car will be powered with and the material your car will be made from, and see how that will affect its overall environmental performance in terms of its total life cycle emissions and fuel consumption.

Why life cycle emissions?
The focus of regulations currently are the emissions that happen while the vehicle is being driven and consuming fuel. But this is just one part of the vehicle life that produces emissions. Emissions are also produced during the raw material extraction and vehicle manufacturing, the fuel production and the end of life recycling and disposal.  To keep the economic indications realistic, we also included how many times you’ll be able to avoid stopping at the fuel station each year, based on your choices.

Why should you care?
By concentrating on only one part of a vehicle’s lifetime emissions, design decisions can be made that may reduce fuel consumption, but actually increase emissions over the vehicle’s total life cycle.  This is because of the high emissions caused during the manufacturing and/or recycling  of the materials or technologies that are chosen.  If it takes a lot more energy to make something, that means there are more emissions.  The problem is not solved, it is shifted to another place in the life cycle.  That means cars aren’t actually better environmentally.  That means your earth is not cleaner.  That means that the next generation is going to be dealing with an even bigger environmental problem.

How do we avoid this?
Life Cycle Assessment. Without a life cycle approach to vehicle design, as well as emissions regulations, the total environmental impact of a vehicle can actually be increased. To understand why, watch these short videos: What is LCA?      The Big Picture

Okay, why is steel always better on this Indicator?
This is a simple tool showing technology tradeoffs for a particular set of parameters, but it is based on solid scientific methodology.  Will steel always be better?  Of course not. However, because the manufacture of other materials such as aluminium or plastic composites produce up to 20 times more emissions than steel, this is a frequent outcome. The point is that without a life cycle assessment to guide the design decision process, automakers will make decisions resulting in unintended consequences.

For those who like to know the data facts, here’s some information on the Indicator:

UCSB Bren School of Environmental Sciences The data used to create this graphic is derived from the Automotive Materials Greenhouse Gas Comparison Model, developed by the University of California at Santa Barbara Bren School of Environmental Science, under the leadership of Dr. Roland Geyer. For a more technical look at life cycle assessment , the Model can be downloaded here and used to enter your own choices to understand material, engine and other impacts.  Would you like to hear Dr. Geyer on the subject of LCA?  Watch this short video here.
electric-engine You can compare four different engine types (internal combustion engine – gasoline, internal combustion engine – diesel, hybrid electric and electric), and three different material choices. popular in the automotive world today: Advanced High-Strength Steels, Multi-Material and Aluminium.
car The vehicle is an A/B-Class Sedan, driven for a 200,000 kilometer life span of approximately 12 years.  This is an example.  In order to properly understand a vehicle product emissions, it would be necessary to include all of the content of that particular vehicle.  Think luxury vs. non-luxury packages, for instance. These will make the vehicle heavier and use more raw materials.
 recycled car “End of Life Credits” are a measure of the CO2 emissions saved by recycling the materials from which the vehicle is made, which allows manufacturers downstream to avoid making new material from virgin sources. Because CO2 emissions are almost always much lower for recycling than virgin production, the recyclable product (in this case the vehicle) is credited with avoiding the extra emissions, and this credit is subtracted from the product’s total emissions. We’ve indicated it with an image, but the total emissions bars reflect the credit.
 gas pump Fuel fill ups saved are the number of times that the owner of the vehicle can avoid going to the fueling station to fill the fuel tank over the course of a year.  You’ll see that the comparisons are startling.
co2 Emissions are measured in kilograms (kg) of carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2e), which are greenhouse gases. The idea is to express the impact of each different greenhouse gas in terms of the amount of CO2 that would create the same amount of global warming.

 

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