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Gov’t, industry, national labs collaborate on comprehensive cradle-to-grave LCA study and economic assessment of LDV GHG reductions

A cradle-to-grave (C2G) assessment of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and costs for current (2015) and future (2025–2030) light-duty vehicles by a team from US DOE and national laboratories, major automakers, EPRI and Chevron has found that currently, hybrid and plug-in hybrid petroleum-fueled vehicles provide the most attractive cost in terms of avoided carbon emissions—although they offer lower potential GHG reductions. The ranges of the levelized cost of driving (LCD) and cost of avoided carbon are narrower for the future technology pathways, reflecting the expected economic competitiveness of these alternative vehicles and fuels.

The analysis, published in the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology,addressed both fuel cycle and vehicle manufacturing cycle for the following vehicle types: gasoline and diesel internal combustion engine vehicles (ICEVs); flex fuel vehicles; compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicles; hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs); hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs); battery electric vehicles (BEVs); and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs).

Numerous LCA tools have been used to evaluate the GHG emissions associated with various vehicle-fuel technologies, including fossil fuels, biofuels, hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs), hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs), plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVS), and battery electric vehicles (BEVs). … None of the aforementioned studies conducted a comprehensive cradle-to-grave LCA (including both fuel cycle and vehicle cycle) of the U.S. light-duty vehicles (LDVs) to calculate the GHG emissions and costs of a wide range of vehicle-fuel technologies—highlighting the need for a comprehensive LCA and economic assessment focused on the U.S. transportation sector.

To address this research gap, we conducted an independent, comprehensive, cradle-to-grave (C2G) (vehicle and fuel cycle) LCA of energy consumption, GHG emissions, vehicle and fuel costs, carbon abatement costs, and technological readiness for current and future LDV/fuel technology pathways; the data and assumptions in our study were vetted by experts from the U.S. automotive and energy industries.

—Elgowainy et al.

The team used bottom-up vehicle simulation models, LCA models, and techno-economic discounted cash flow models for the C2G analysis. The analysis addressed every aspect of the vehicle and fuel life cycles, including manufacturing, end-of-life disposal (recycling and scrappage), and vehicle operation, as well as fuel feedstock production and transportation, fuel production, and fuel distribution.

GHG emissions and energy use were calculated using Argonne’s GREET model; vehicle fuel economies and manufacturing costs were estimated using Argonne’s Autonomie model by sizing components of the different vehicle architectures to deliver comparable operational performance (e.g., time to accelerate from 0–60 mph, maximum speed), thus eliminating important confounding factors.

The costs to consumers for established fuels were based on the US Energy Information Administration’s (EIA’s) 2015 Annual Energy Outlook, while techno-economic analysis models with consistent economic assumptions were used to estimate the costs for hydrogen and advanced bio-derived fuels.

Fuels or energy carriers in the study included gasoline, ethanol, diesel, CNG, LPG, hydrogen, and electricity. For each of these, the team examined the GHG emissions and costs for a current technology case and possible future technology production pathways.

Calculated life-cycle GHG emissions from current vehicle-fuel technology pathways and from those deemed scalable in the 2025–2030 timeframe (following an assessment of technological readiness). Credit: ACS, Elgowainy et al. Click to enlarge.

Broadly, the team found that gasoline ICEVs using current technology have C2G emissions of ∼450 gCO2e/mi (grams of carbon dioxide equivalents per mile), while C2G emissions from HEVs, PHEVs, H2 FCEVs, and BEVs range from 300–350 gCO2e/mi.

The team expects future vehicle efficiency gains to reduce emissions to ∼350 gCO2e/mi for ICEVs and ∼250 gCO2e/mi for HEVs, PHEVs, FCEVs, and BEVs. Utilizing low-carbon fuel pathways yields GHG reductions more than double those achieved by vehicle efficiency gains alone.

However, the researchers noted, although the findings show that advanced vehicle and fuel technologies could lead to deep reductions in GHG emissions compared with a conventional gasoline ICEV, impacts on the upfront vehicle purchase price and the levelized cost of driving (LCD) are decisive factors in the actual adoption of these advanced vehicles by consumers.

For 2025–2030, ICEVs using conventional gasoline appear to be the least expensive vehicle-fuel systems for the end user on a per-mile basis. LCDs ranged from 26¢ per mile for conventional gasoline ICEVs to 38¢ per mile for long-range BEVs using electricity derived from solar energy. The costs of other pathways include 31¢ per mile for corn-stover ethanol ICEVs, 28¢–30¢ per mile for PHEVs and H2 FCEVs, and 34¢–38¢ per mile for BEVs. The central estimate of the future technology conventional ICEV is $2,110 more than the central estimate of the current technology version, due to advances in engine and materials technologies.

Levelized cost of driving for current (2015, dark bars) and future (2025–2030, light bars) technology pathways. Low-volume production is represented by black diamonds. CNG and LPG vehicles are evaluated only for the current technology case. Credit: ACS, Elgowainy et al. Click to enlarge.

Cost of avoided GHGs for current (2015, dark bars) and future (2025–2030, light bars) technology pathways compared with a conventional gasoline ICEV (baseline). Lifetime costs for carbon mitigation using current technologies range from $170 to $2,700 per tonne. The lowest-cost future pathways are shown for each vehicle type, and range from $90 to $410 per tonne. Credit: ACS, Elgowainy et al. Click to enlarge.

The costs estimated for avoiding GHG emissions from LDVs … are higher than the externalities estimated for the social cost of CO2. Furthermore, while these alternative vehicle-fuel systems provide large GHG emissions reductions, they require further research and development to compete against the conventional systems available in the market today.

This contextualization highlights the utility of the cost of avoided emissions as a metric for comparing different technologies. However, using the cost-of-avoided-emissions metric has limitations; the technologies considered in the analysis differ not only in terms of their lifetime GHG emissions but also in other important attributes, such as local air-quality-related emissions, reliance on different energy sources and fuels (e.g., petroleum, natural gas, ethanol, hydrogen, electricity), and functionality (e.g., more limited range and longer refueling times for BEVs).

… To achieve large-scale GHG emissions reductions in the United States, emissions reductions will be required in all sectors: electric power generation, residential, commercial, industrial, and transportation. The findings presented here highlight the challenges in achieving large GHG emissions reductions from LDVs and can help policymakers develop a more informed approach to addressing GHG emissions reductions.

—Elgowainy et al.


  • Amgad Elgowainy, Jeongwoo Han, Jacob Ward, Fred Joseck, David Gohlke, Alicia Lindauer, Todd Ramsden, Mary Biddy, Mark Alexander, Steven Barnhart, Ian Sutherland, Laura Verduzco and Timothy J. Wallington (2018) “Current and Future United States Light-Duty Vehicle Pathways: Cradle-to-Grave Lifecycle Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Economic Assessment” Environ. Sci. Technol. doi: 10.1021/acs.est.7b06006



Proper quantitive analysis on a lifetime emissions and cost basis blows away the innumerate claims of big battery only boosters alleging huge differentials in their favour.

But then they were always going to.


The study also tops out at a 210 mile AER for BEVs.

To have anything like the long distance capability of FCEVs 300 miles would be needed, and both the embodied energy/emissions and the costs would be way worse.


Do you think this study is unbiased when it was created by Chevron? It's not hard to cherry pick data and use assumptions in favor of a targeted conclusion. The assumption that is most blanent here is using the mature costs of gasoline vehicles contrasted against the immature costs of BEVs and their batteries, which are still very much in initial development.

BTW, FCEVs would be a great use of hydrogen produced by surplus electricity; but, not by reformed fossil fuel controlled by the oil companies. I'm all in on FCEVs. They are after all electric cars.



You need to re-read the information in the article.
Costs, energy and emissions are given for the present, but also projected to 2025-30.

IOW it is not just assuming present technology and costs, and allows for improvements.

Of course the assumptions would alter the conclusions, and we don't have them detailed.

However it is normal to exclude breakthrough technology, but as can be seen they assume significant progress in the time they cover.

And you focus of Chevron, and ignore the US Government and everyone else's input.

You also wrongly assume that hydrogen equates to fossil fuel use.
Again you need to read more thoroughly, as they detail electrolysis, presumably from renewables, as one of their sources for hydrogen.

Clif Jacobs

Good grief, Lad. Stop letting company names trigger you..

This paper is published on behalf of the American Chemical Society, which has a decidedly activist perspective on Anthripogenic Global Warming -- leaning towards YOUR view.

See their position here:



'Hybrid and plug-in hybrid petroleum-fueled vehicles provide the most attractive cost in terms of avoided carbon emissions'

May I add 'extended range electric vehicles' with less than 15 kWh battery packs and low-cost range extenders to the above list with the proviso that battery costs could fall during the next 10 years that will favour range extended vehicles even more.



Lazlo. "battery costs could fall during the next 10 years" ??? What would stop them from falling as they have been at a dramatic rate for the last 10 years?


HI Paroway:

Have a look at the projected declines in costs out to 2025-30 which will include reduced costs for batteries.

As materials make up an ever increasing proportion of the total cost further reductions are more and more difficult to come by though.
Hyundai reckon that further reductions will be low after around 2020 and $100KWH at the cell level.

Different chemistries, solid state etc, might change that, but what we have a good grasp on at the moment is in the range given by the article.


The study shows the levelised cost per mile as cost of ownership while not considering rebates, parking traffic zone or lane use exemptions or other legislative benefits.
Working from this abstract I see no mention of maintenance costs either.

It might be more accurate to say this is their projection of various costs excluding ownership given that it does not attempt to.

While it would be difficult to quantify across the many markets, it is a very important consideration they appear to have overlooked.
If they truly are interested in facilitating the solutions to global warming as a priority they might also advocate for financial penalties for pollution and the suite of exemptions as applicable to ZEV's .

We know that they represent and will where possible defend the reputation and economic interests of the members both individual and corporate as is their purpose in the same fashion as every other industry focused body.

We should understand that the members are derived from the chemical and associated industries and will tend to be pro active ( if not they would be less likely to remain involved) We can see how this will inevitably lead to bias.

The chemical industry also represents battery makers and other competing technology I.E. ZEV interests and so can make claim to be unbiased.
How well can you read the tea leaves?


Some of these results are surprising, such as the cost-per-ton of CO2 reduction from CNG and LPG vehicles.  But the one that really got me is how the space between HEV, PHEV-10 and PHEV-35 is projected to narrow in all respects.  The PHEV-10 is so close to HEV you might as well not bother with HEV, and PHEV-35 is barely a jump while offering major pollution reductions albeit at a slightly higher price.

Looks like my SWAG now has authoritative backing.


The electric vehicle ghg red and ownership costs are both shown decreasing over time while the diesel and gasoline vehicles are expected to do worse on both emissions and cost per mile over time.



You are right that subsidies and mandates for costs will not be included, which would seem to be the correct way of doing things as if the proportion of alternative fuelled vehicles rises enough to be significant then they will lose their perks, with Governments in Europe for instance making it perfectly clear that they neither intend nor can afford to continue them beyond the start up stages.

For the modelling though they will surely include maintenance costs in the lifetime costs, and that is done in every study I have seen which gives a breakdown.

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