New Study Highlights the Need for a Life Cycle Assessment Approach to Vehicle Emissions Regulation

BRUSSELS, 12 July 2013 – A new study commissioned by the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership (LowCVP) says that with increasing efficiencies of powertrains and fuels that contribute to lower emissions during the driving phase of the car, the use of tailpipe CO2e emissions will become “almost irrelevant in terms of focusing on true carbon profiles” of future vehicles.  This study further underscores the need for a life cycle approach in future automotive emissions regulations as vehicle production phase emission impacts become more significant.

The LowCVP report findings become key to emissions policy in the EU, particularly after the European Commission was called on to consider “a regulatory approach that takes account of greenhouse gas emissions associated with energy supply and the life cycle of the vehicle” for the period beyond 2020 by the Environment Committee of the European Parliament as part of the review of CO2 emission rules for passenger cars.

The study, Life Cycle CO2 Assessment of Low Carbon Cars 2020-2030, completed by PE International, Inc. is a follow up to a LowCVP study by Ricardo1, which also demonstrated the need for a whole life cycle CO2 emissions approach to account for environmental impacts, particularly when comparing different vehicle technologies.  The current study sought to improve understanding of CO2e emissions of different vehicle technologies over the 2020 to 2030 timeframe.

The Ricardo report indicated that production emissions of a battery electric vehicle could total more than 50 percent of the vehicle total life cycle.  This new PE study supports that conclusion, noting that “as the contribution to lifecycle CO2 impacts from the use phase decreases in future, so the embodied impacts of the vehicles themselves will become more of a focus for further decarbonisation”

“This new research reinforces the need for a life cycle approach to emissions regulations,” says Cees ten Broek, Director, WorldAutoSteel.  “Automakers and others are significantly reducing emissions associated with the vehicle’s use phase through advanced powertrain technologies and fuels.  With these efficiencies, the emissions generated during materials production and vehicle manufacturing become increasingly more important and should be accounted for.” 

All significant legislation currently focuses on ‘tailpipe’ or use phase emissions.  A more thorough way of measuring automotive CO2 emissions is by using life cycle assessment (LCA), which takes into account all of the emissions created during the life of a product from raw material production through to end-of-life recycling or disposal. The value of a life cycle approach is illustrated in the chart below from the LowCVP PE report, which shows how production phase emissions become dominant with increasingly efficient powertrain technologies, while comparing total vehicle life cycle emissions for various powertrain and fuel technologies.

LowCVP Detailed Results for “Best Case 2030” Scenario

Detailed Results for “Best Case 2030” Scenario
Source: LowCVP PE International Life Cycle CO2 Assessment of Low Carbon Cars 2020-2030 Report

Ten Broek also notes that an LCA approach in regulations will provide greater design flexibility in meeting the regulatory requirements for vehicle fleets.  “As this chart shows, a life cycle-based regulation will provide automakers with the ability to develop an optimal mix of technologies to achieve the intended emissions reduction target” says ten Broek. “One thing is certain, without LCA, we are not solving the vehicle emissions problem; we are merely shifting it to another vehicle life cycle phase.”

“We sincerely hope that the LowCVP findings will be incorporated into the debate on vehicle emissions legislation beyond 2020 in the EU”, he concluded.


 

1Ricardo, Preparing for a Life Cycle CO2 Measure, Ricardo Report RD.11/124801.4 for Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership, 20 May 2011.  http://www.slideshare.net/UCSD-Strategic-Energy/ricardo-low-carbon-vehicle-partnership-life-cycle-co2-measure-final-report

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