Calls for emissions regulations to consider lifetime impact

Manufacturers in Europe must sell substantial numbers of electrified cars to avoid heavy EU fines, but several industry figures have questioned whether emissions regulations should take into account the environmental impact of a vehicle’s entire lifespan.

For 2020, car makers had to hit a CO2 emissions fleet average of 95g/km for cars sold, and by 2025 that target is set to come down to around 81g/km. This will be achieved by the increasing use of electrified powertrains, but some in the industry are increasingly resisting the notion that electrified cars are true low-carbon transport.

Last year, Polestar chose to publish a life-cycle analysis of its new 2, revealing that it could take as much as 70,000 kilometres miles of driving before the electric hatchback would leave a smaller energy footprint than a petrol-engined Volvo XC40.

This elicited an angry reaction from EV advocates and environmentalists, but that hasn’t deterred some in the industry. For instance, on the day the massive merger of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and the PSA Group to form Stellantis (a giant of nine million annual sales) went public, CEO Carlos Tavares used his moment in the global spotlight to argue against “narrow-minded” regulations forcing car makers to produce EVs.

Speaking to the Financial Times, Tavares argued that governments were pushing new technologies before fully understanding their overall environmental impact and said the emissions from battery making – including the pollution from extracting lithium – “handicaps” EVs before they even leave the showroom.

In truth, Tavares has a huge job on his hands if he is to succeed in moving the EU towards a new way of assessing a vehicle’s lifetime environmental impact.

According to one industry insider who spoke to us, car makers and legislators agreeing on a universal methodology for implementing a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) would be problematic.

The source said that many of the ‘inputs’ into a standard LCA would be commercially sensitive and makers might be unhappy to release them. “You would also have to assess the mining and refining process [for the materials used in a vehicle] as well as being able to account for your [component] supply chain,” they added.

One serious attempt at creating an LCA system has been made by a team from the Department of Industrial Engineering at the University of Florence in Italy, detailed in a 2018 paper entitled Life Cycle Assessment in the Automotive Sector: a Comparative Study of Internal Combustion Engine and Electric Car.

The environmental factors taken into account for this wide-ranging ‘cradle-to-grave’ study included acidification, ecotoxicity of freshwater, eutrophication of freshwater, human toxicity, land use and photochemical ozone formation, to name a few.

The study concluded that battery-electric vehicles (BEVs) contributed far more to human toxicity. They were also judged slightly worse for acidification, resource depletion and particulate emissions across their lifespan.

Hilton Holloway

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