The carbon footprint of battery-powered electric vehicles is already better than those of corresponding models with internal combustion engines. This is the result of a certified lifecycle assessment (LCA) of the Volkswagen Golf, which compares the CO2 emissions of the different vehicle versions with an electric and an internal combustion engine. Other studies (dating back to 2013) have also reported similar results.
The current Golf TDI (Diesel) emits 140g CO2/km on average over its entire life cycle, while the e-Golf emits 119g CO2/km.
Most of the emissions from the vehicle with an internal combustion engine occur when it is being used, when the Diesel producing 111g CO2/km. A corresponding electric vehicle emits only 62 g CO2/km during this phase, which results from energy generation and supply.
In contrast, most emissions from the battery-powered electric vehicle are generated in the production phase. According to the LCA, a Diesel vehicle generates 29 g CO2/km during production, while a comparable electric vehicle emits 57 g CO2/km, due to the battery production and the complex extraction of raw materials. These emissions account for almost half of the CO2 emissions of the entire life cycle.
By far the greatest potential for reducing CO2 emissions arises from the source of energy during the use phase. If EVs are charged with electricity obtained exclusively from renewable sources, CO2 emissions of 62 g CO2/km in today’s EU electricity mix will drop to just 2 g CO2/km.
Life cycle assessment examines carbon dioxide emissions during all product stages of a car including:
• The production phase includes the emissions generated by the extraction of raw materials, the production of components, and assembly
• The use phase includes the emissions of the fuel and electricity supply
• Recycling evaluates dismantling and potential savings through recycling
Further reduction of CO2 emissions is planned in all product stages. Improvements in lithium-ion battery technology and supply chain optimisation lower the carbon footprint during battery manufacturing for the first ID. model planned for 2020 by more than 25 percent per kilowatt hour (kWh) of battery capacity compared with the e-Golf. When using renewable energy, the reduction potential is almost 50 percent.Recycling the vehicle offers further opportunities to reduce CO2 emissions through the circular economy. A pilot plant for recycling is currently being built at the Volkswagen’s Salzgitter site. A new raw material (black powder) for the cathodes of new batteries is due to be extracted from end-of-life batteries. This results in a potential CO2 reduction of up to 25 percent. However, the group does not expect significant amounts of batteries for industrial-scale recycling until the end of the 2020s.