Life cycle CO2 vehicle emissions and the implications for road traffic

In the medium to long term, energy system transformation will require a massive reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in all energy-consuming sectors - including road transport.

This has sparked a fierce energy policy debate regarding the choice of technology for vehicles in the future. One important question in this debate is whether all vehicles should be replaced with battery electric vehicles in the future. 

UNITI asked Frontier to investigate the carbon footprint of automotive drive systems over the duration of the vehicle lifecycle.

The analysis is based on a transparent and externally usable calculation tool which measures CO2 emissions of the drive systems "from cradle to grave"- i.e. from the manufacture of the vehicles, throughout their usage up until the vehicles are disposed of or recycled. The focus of the analysis is on drive systems for private transport and light commercial vehicles for current and future use.

Our results show that the specific use case determines which technology alternative is most advantageous, in terms of greenhouse gas emissions. Combustion engines and battery electric vehicles have specific advantages and disadvantages along their life cycle steps. The respective CO2 emissions are dependent on a number of factors.

Looking to the future, both technology options can operate in an increasingly climate-friendly manner. In the case of battery electric vehicles, the increasing proportion of renewable energies in the electricity mix is important. For  combustion engines, the increasing use of green e-fuels in the fuel mix will help this type of engine become more climate-friendly.

The  calculation tool mentioned above, enables us to test the various different use cases and see the resulting CO2 emission balance of the vehicles. Read more about our full analysis here and click here to discover more about the tool.