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Ricardo study finds electric and hybrid cars have a higher carbon footprint during production than conventional vehicles, but still offer a lower footprint over the full life cycle

Electric and hybrid cars generate more carbon emissions during their production than current conventional vehicles, but still have a lower carbon footprint overall, according to a new report prepared by Ricardo for, and in collaboration with, the expert membership of the UK’s Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership that includes major vehicle manufacturers and oil companies.

For example, a typical medium-sized family car will create around 24 tonnes of CO2 during its life cycle, while an electric vehicle (EV) will produce around 18 tonnes over its life, the report said. For a battery EV, 46% of its total carbon footprint is generated at the factory, before it has travelled a single mile.

The report, being released as part of the LowCVP Annual Conference 2011 on 9 June, highlights the increasing importance of accounting for whole life carbon emissions to compare the greenhouse gas emissions of low carbon vehicles. The study found that some of the CO2 savings made during the use of low carbon vehicles is offset by increased emissions created during their production, and to a lesser extent, disposal.

This work dispels the myth that low carbon vehicles simply displace emissions from the exhaust to other sources. However, it does highlight the need to look at reducing carbon emissions from vehicles throughout their lifecycle. The automotive industry is already taking positive steps to address this issue—the recent announcement by Toyota of a solar array to provide electricity to power the hybrid Auris production facility and wind power at the Nissan Leaf plant are excellent examples of this.

—Greg Archer, LowCVP Managing Director

For a current standard mid-sized gasoline ICE (internal combustion engine) vehicle, the embedded carbon in production will be around 5.6tCO2e, around three quarters of which is the steel in the vehicle glider. This highlights the importance of deploying low weight, low carbon alternatives to current steels in the ultra-low carbon vehicles of the future. A similar electric vehicle will have embedded production emissions of 8.8tCO2e, 43% of which arise from the battery.

Vehicle Whole Life Carbon Emissions Analysis
 Estimated lifecycle emissions
(tonnes CO2e)
Proportion of
emissions in production
Estimated emissions in production
(tonnes CO2e)
Standard gasoline vehicle 24 23% 5.6
Hybrid vehicle 21 31% 6.5
Plug-in hybrid vehicle 19 35% 6.7
Battery-electric vehicle 19 46% 8.8
Based upon a 2015 vehicle in use for 150k KM using 10% ethanol blend and 500g/kWh grid electricity.

Decarbonizing both electricity supply through renewables and the production of batteries will therefore be essential for electric vehicles to deliver ultra-low carbon lifetime emissions.

The report also indicates that lifecycle carbon emissions for mid-sized gasoline and diesel vehicles doing a similar lifetime mileage are almost identical—the greater efficiency of the diesel being offset by high production emissions. It also highlights that some regulations designed to improve recyclability, safety or reduce air pollution can increase carbon emissions in production or use.

There is an emerging consensus that we need to move towards a more holistic analysis of whole life CO2 emissions in order to make more informed and better long term decisions on future technologies.

Life cycle analysis is still in its infancy, with little defined process and standards. The Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership report is an important contribution to this type of analysis and highlights the need to work toward a common methodology and approach to deliver consistent and robust life cycle data on CO2 emissions.

—Ricardo Chief Technology & Innovation Officer and Chairman of the LowCVP, Prof. Neville Jackson

As a wider range of electric, biofuel and potentially hydrogen vehicles compete with petrol and diesel models in the future, it will become essential to compare vehicles on a whole-life carbon basis. The study shows the complexity, but also the practicalities of calculating whole life carbon emissions and highlights the need to develop a standard methodology acceptable to vehicle manufacturers.

We already measure the whole life carbon emissions of biofuels and doing the same for vehicles is entirely feasible. However, it does require effort to be directed now, at agreeing how this should be done consistently at an EU, or possibly global level.

—Greg Archer



This is only correct where electricity production is mostly with dirty coal. Since we are 97+% hydro and 3% wind/nuclear, it becomes meaning less as presented.

The exercise could be redone with manufacturing plants using 95% to 100% clean electricity and clean aluminium made with clean electricity and other clean materials.


This is perhaps an overly simplified summarisation of the Ricardo study.

Three important points to keep in mind:

You cannot generalise about the CO2 impact of EVs since upstream electricity-related emissions vary from country to country and according to time of day and season. The Ricardo study assumes a CO2 intensity of 500 g CO2/kWh which is equal to average UK electricity CO2 intensity. If the marginal electricity used to charge the EV is generated by a coal plant (and baseload in the UK is often generated by coal) then the CO2 intensity is nearly double at 920 gCO2/kWh erasing the “benefit” of the EV. If the vehicle is charged by a gas plant (marginal capacity during the day or when gas prices are more favourable than coal) then the CO2 intensity is lower at around 380 g CO2/kWh. These ranges are not uncommon for most EU countries (except perhaps France) and are on the low end of the CO2 intensity of some regions contemplating massive EV roll-outs (IE northern China).

Ricardo’s projected EV lifecycle CO2 savings are relatively small and incomensurate with the cost premium of the EV. The study assumes the lifecycle CO2 emissions of both EVs and plug-in hybrids to be only 20% less than a gasoline car (19t lifetime emissions for the EV and PHEV compared to 24t for the ICE). The cost premium of an EV and PHEV over an ICE is more than 20% so you end up paying quite a bit per ton of avoided CO2. Let us assume that decreases in production-related CO2 emissions will occur at the same rate for EVs and ICEs. 70% of the ICE lifecycle emissions come from vehicle operation – this is the area where we are seeing significant decreases in emissions via turbo-charging, light-weighting, stop-start micro hybridisation etc. Contrast this to the 52% of CO2 emissions that come from electricity production. I don’t believe that we will be seeing a 50% improvement in the carbon intensity of electricity production by 2030 in the EU and certainly not elsewhere. Even if we did, the impact of that would be less than the impact of halving fuel consumption from the ICE given the relative weights of driving and electricity production related emissions for the two types of vehicles.

The CO2 comparison between EVs and ICEs is likely not to favour the EV over the mid-term (2030). IMO The possibility for significant improvements in ICE fuel economy are greater than the possibilities for significant decarbonisation of electricity and advances in battery technology. As long as the EV cost premium remains, then time will likely favour new advanced ICEs under most oil price scenarios.

Don't get me wrong - if I could afford one, I would love to have an EV.... but let's be honest about both the up and downsides of these vehicles....


...and lets not forget that EV is only one of many potential solutions for lowering carbon intensity which deserve equal attention.


Er, let's get real. There is no mandate or movement of any merit to lower CO2. Cancun and Copenhagen have proven this. This is just another taxpayer supported study to have little or no meaning

Any study of of manufacturing costs should measure how much fossil fuel is consumed. THAT is the only metric of value with respect to carbon. And as Harvey points out, there are business options to consume only clean electricity in manufacturing today. Further disparaging this study.

Insanity: alarmists banging their head against the same wall hoping for a different result.


Given that the EV can not only use nuclear power for its operation, but also for the electric energy required in its manufacture and disposal (both smelting aluminum and electric furnaces for steel scrap), it's the clear winner both for CO2 emitted and fossil fuels consumed in a nuclear economy.

Andy Smith

PhilippeC,where did you pull those random facts and figures from?
The base load for the u.k is a mixture of nuclear, and gas because it's cheaper and the most used source of power in the u.k...920g?? The majority of People don't pay for tonnes of C02 avoided they pay a price premium for the new technology and the ability to reduce costs in the long term and give energy security.
Your argument for reducing ICE emissions can also be applied to battery/e.v generation.. solar powered plants, more efficient batteries, de carbonisation of the grid etc


E-P:....and for a Hydro Electric economy.....??? EVs made with locally produced aluminium would have a very small initial and on-going CO2 foot print.


And how does "Ricardo" come to this strange conclusion that the production of EV cars require more energy than ICE cars??? The ice motor is so much more complicated than an electric motor. Do they keep in mind that batteries can be recycled much more easily than any other part of the ice car?

Personally I don't believe the conclusion of "Ricardo". The UK elite (as well as the Dutch elite) are traditionally involved with oil (its their business).


@Andy Smith: those random figures and facts are the official numbers submitted by the UK to the IEA and published in "Electricity Information 2010" ( Coal is significant source of electricity generation in the UK trading places with gas according to prevailing prices for both resources. The unweighted share of coal amongst UK utilities is 33% coal (gas currently represents 43%, unweighted), the weighted share is more and the fuel mix profile amongst utilities varies widely (for example, coal represents 51% of London Energy electricity mix)


Obviously, they have added the carbon from the production of electricity -- but did they also add the carbon from the production of gasoline? Since a lot of electricity and natural gas are used all through the long path from oil exploration to extraction, to transportation, to refinement, and more transportation, pumping and storage all along the way (which is similar to grid losses!) I can only imagine what the actual carbon footprint of gasoline is!

Nissan has said that each gallon of gasoline represents about 7.5kWh of electricity. So, for the electricity overhead *alone*, a Leaf can travel about 22-38 miles depending on how you drive. The Illuminati Motor Works '7' (X-Prize competitor) could go as far as 50 miles on 7.5kWh; and I believe this can be surpassed!

So leave the oil in the ground, and use that same electricity directly in an EV.

Also, there is the lubrication oil, coolant, and the other consumables (filters, etc.) used for regular maintenance of ICE powered cars. This is non-trivial and needs to be included in any serious study. Electric cars have virtually no regular maintenance; other than tires and wiper blades, which they share with ICE powered cars, obviously.

Also, only renewable energy is truly low-to-zero carbon. Nuclear has a carbon footprint that includes uranium mining, refinement and enrichment, making fuel rods, building power plants that use an immense amount of concrete and steel, hot fuel rod storage, dry cask storage, and then plant decommissioning and *very* long term high security storage of dangerous waste -- all of which has a carbon footprint.

Electricity *can* come from renewable energy, and therefore gets cleaner over time.

Oil is finite.

Electricity is virtually infinite.



It would be interesting to do the same study with smaller and larger ICE cars.
i.e. Ford Ka, Fiesta, Focus, Mondeo, Galaxy. (or whatever).
You might find that the simplest way to reduce your environmental footprint is to use a smaller car (and keep it longer).

Thomas Lankester

The Ricardo report is quite positive about EVs so I don't know why you think of them as some oil-bound elite. They clearly state that the battery ups the EV manufacturing carbon footprint but is more than offset by the carbon efficiencies based in current UK electricity generation (which is set to rapidly decarbonise this decade).
'Do they keep in mind that batteries can be recycled much more easily than any other part of the ice car?'
They can be reused more easily as they should have considerable storage capacity (80%) even at the end of their automotive life but easier to recycle? Body panes, and other scrap metal can just be melted down. I'd not like to try that with a Li ion battery!


No industrial nation can run on hydroelectricity; the supply is far too small. Contrast the USA's electric generation alone with the fraction from hydro, and you'll see it's impossible.


Many industrial areas use hydro for a very high percentage of their domestic and industrial needs including many very large aluminium plants.

That is our case. With 45,000+ (hydro) mega-watt currently installed and the potential for another 40,000 mega-watts and as much as 95,000 mega-watt of high quality wind power potential we could go as high as 190,000 mega-watts (combined hydro + wind) or about 8 times our current needs.

Our six large aluminium plants and rather small population (8 million) cannot use all that clean electrical power, even with two electrified vehicle per family. East Coast USA will not buy large quantities of this clean power because they are convinced that coal fired power plants are cleaner the hydro/wind power. Unbelievable but true.

Reducing e-power consumption is sometime less costly (under 50%) than building new hydro power plants. Our hydro power supplier has invested about $3B to help users to replace old inefficient refrigerators, old SEER 10 A/C and inefficient fossil fuel furnaces with SEER 23 Heat Pumps, old windows and doors, added insulation in commercial buildings and private homes, new low consumption lights in city streets, industries and private homes, We used those programs to reduce our consumption from 65+ Kwh/day to an average of 22 Kwh/day. The savings could operate 4 electrified vehicles. When 3 million private homes and 100% of the commercial/industrial facilities, we could end up with a major clean electricity surplus for export to neighboring provinces or US States.


Harvey, keep in mind that not every residence or business is a candidate for heat pumps. CHP units burning NG or syngas from waste biomass are an excellent way of reducing oil and coal-generated heat and electricity.

One major step humanity needs to take is to move away from inefficient, distant, centralized power generation to small, efficient LOCAL generation. That is, to utilize distributed energy to eliminate the need for new coal-fired, hydro or nuclear power plants.

Small IS beautiful. Think global, act local. Small, efficient, local electricity, heat (and hot water) appliances are the next evolution in lowering carbon footprint and ending our debilitating addiction to foreign oil.

Japan currently leads the way in CHP equipped communities that no longer rely on energy transmission via ungainly, insecure overhead wiring, transformers, breakers, insulators, buried cables etc.

Landscapes free of high voltage transmission towers, electric poles and particulate belching power plants - are an environmentalist dream. All plausible and possible via CHP energy appliances for the home. We're headed that way.

University of Tokyo Dept. Architecture/Engineering de-centralized systems integration: Designing a Small-scale Infra-free (IF) System for Community Applications: Managing Energy, Water and Waste

It's called Energy Independence and it serves left and right agendas. All aboard.


Reel$$. I hate to disappoint you, but very large water turbine are extremely efficient (and water feed stock is completely free and sustainable). Secondly, very high voltage (750,000 t0 1,000,000 Volts) transmission lines have a lot less loss than low voltage lines. Both are very reliable and last up to 100+ years.

No local in-house Oil, NG/SG, Hydrogen, Wind, Solar units can match it, with initial and on-going 24/7 cost.


Reel$$: New cold weather heat pumps operate efficiently down to -30C. Our variable speed very efficient heat pumps is good to -17C and regular base board heaters take over below -17C (a few hours a year). It is also extremely efficient (SEER 23) as an A/C unit. Some new units get SEER 26.


The new USA SEER 13 standard is a job.


correction: (job) should read (farce) along CAFE's line..

Andy Smith

With all due respect that figure stated in your link is for 2008/9, so currently it is slightly out of date

There are already plans for an increase in renewables, 15% is the target for 2020 for the u.k. Also we have the contracts for 5 new nuclear sites as well as the worlds first CCS coal plant. Besides that, the point I was going to make was that you can selectively choose a green energy tarif or choose to produce your own energy at extra cost.
Again there are so many variables. Toyota have installed solar arrays on many factories and have reduced energy costs by 5%, not much but thats several thousand carbon free hybrid cars every year


Similar study, concluding that the manufacturing burden was minimal and that the grid mix during the vehicle lifetime was more influential.


Harvey, hydro systems will be generating renewable energy in the near term, yes. Especially for industry, government and educational institutions. Residences will move to distributed energy for many many reasons - environment is one big one - safety, efficiency, security and economy are others.

At some point the public will demand to know why our landscapes, plains and forests have 150 meter-wide clearcuts defacing them. Clearcuts accommodating huge high voltage towers strung with miles and miles of vulnerable high tension cable. Ohms law still applies regardless of voltage - there are overall resistance losses on the order of 7-10% in any grid transmission system. Not to mention the spurious energy and RF issues arising from very high voltage towers situated near residential homes.

Centralized power is a bygone concept in energy production. It will be dismantled like all outdated technology - perhaps not for 30-40 years. Producing and using locally made products and services is the new green mantra. Think global, act local.

Energy is abundant throughout the universe and human beings will make use of it sooner than later. We are already aware of cosmic influences from lower ground state atomic H. Knowledge is also abundant. It is simple evolution.


This type of accounting of lifetime carbon footprint is exactly the reason I'm thoroughly impressed with Edison2, the winner in the mainstream class of the Automotive X Prize. The Edison2 Very Light Car (VLC) is low carbon in production and very low carbon in operation. The Automotive X Prize winning Edison2 VLC was powered by an internal combustion engine. Some environmentalists ruthlessly criticized Edison2 for not using an electric powered car. But the Edison2 VLC had SIGNIFICANTLY lower greenhouse gas emissions than EVERY electric car in the Automotive X Prize competition. And OBVIOUSLY it would have low carbon manufacturing footprint. I want very much for Edison2 to succeed. If they don't succeed it will not be because of lack of vision or effort. I've met the Edison2 team. They are a team of hard-working, certified (by me) geniuses. If they don't succeed it will be because of a lack of understanding by the car-buying public.

Aaron Turpen

All you hydro lovers need to remember this: Every time you dam up a river, you dramatically change the ecosystem of the ENTIRE river, start to finish. Hydro was great in the 30s, 40s and 50s when nobody cared about destroying everything in the name of progress. Today? Not so much.

Next, this Ricardo study and everything it talks about assumes that CO2 is some kind of measure of importance. So far, no empirical evidence supporting CO2 as a major GHG has been forthcoming, so it's a measure of squat.


Note that the study assumed the car is driven only 150k km. That is far less than the life of a vehicle, and this would definitely affect the "life cycle" carbon footprint. Probably this low number was chosen because it might represent the life of a battery, especially for first generation EV. If one has to replace the battery in an EV, then the manufacturing carbon footprint will go up. As with biofuel life cycle analysis, the results can vary widely depending on the assumptions. Argonne created the software GREET to provide a more complete and transparent analysis of biofuels. We probably need similar analysis of the carbon footprint for car manufacturing and service in order to get closer to a meaningful answer.

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