This is a video that explains in very basic terminology and lots of pictures, what Life Cycle Assessment is, and why it’s important for vehicle emissions regulations. Watch in Chinese language here.
Life Cycle Assessment of Vehicle Emissions
Tailpipe emissions get all the attention when it comes to eco-action, but tailpipes are only a part of the story. Vehicles use energy and make emissions throughout their whole life from the manufacturing of raw materials to the vehicle scrapyard. The total of these is called its carbon footprint, so to really know how green a vehicle is, you have to look at its entire life cycle. That’s called life cycle assessment or LCA. It’s the whole story about a vehicle. You see a vehicle is using energy and creating emissions even before it becomes a vehicle. First there’s creating the material that makes the car. Raw ore Is taken from the ground and is used to make the material which requires energy and creates emissions. Then the vehicle is manufactured. More emissions. Only after someone buys the vehicle and starts driving it do we get the tailpipe emissions, which is also called the use phase of its life cycle, and of course, it requires energy to send it to the scrapyard and recycle it back into materials to make more cars and then the life cycle starts all over again.
How Material Effects LCA of Vehicle Emissions
The material used plays a crucial role in the whole cycle. And when these materials are used in vehicles, their production emissions can completely outweigh the reduction in vehicle emissions that come from the lighter weight. Without a life cycle assessment approach, these critical trade-offs will be missed and in the end, lightweighting will not achieve an improvement in the overall vehicle carbon footprint. As vehicle powertrains become more and more efficient material and vehicle production emissions will become more critical. Today with traditional internal combustion engines, material production accounts for 15% of the vehicle life cycle emissions. With advanced powertrains such as plugin hybrids, that figure rises to 50% of lifecycle emissions. In the future. As electricity is derived from renewable energy sources like wind or solar, the life cycle emissions will completely shift with 85% of emissions coming from vehicle production. If we continue on a tailpipe only regulations course, a large part of vehicle lifetime emissions will remain completely unregulated.