Lifecycle Emissions of BEVs vs. ICEs

This post covers the difference in lifecycle carbon emissions between BEVs and ICEs.

Amongst the top selling points for BEVs (battery electric vehicles) is that these vehicles have far fewer emissions over the course of their lifetimes than ICEs (internal combustion engines, or traditional gasoline powered cars). Both BEVs and ICEs have embedded energy, or a certain amount of emissions generated in order to manufacture the cars, but the carbon that they produce post-creation differs drastically.

Production of EVs does typically generate more emissions than the production of ICEs, due to material extraction and battery creation. ICEs require about 25 g/km of CO2 in the manufacturing stage, while EVs require around 29 g/km of CO2. But the overall lifecycle emissions of EVs is only a fraction of the emissions of ICEs. Several sources say that EVs are almost 3x cleaner than most diesel and petrol cars. EVs in Europe generate 100 g/km CO2 as opposed to 250 g/km CO2 over their lifecycles.

A key difference between the emissions of BEVs and ICEs depends on where the fuel for the vehicles comes from. ICEs utilize petroleum and gasoline regardless, though more efficient ICEs will have better fuel economies. BEVs have batteries that are powered solely by electricity, but where this electricity comes from is an important variable. If all of a country’s electricity is derived from solar, wind, hydro or geothermal power, their EVs will be very clean and have almost no environmental impact. However, if a country relies on petroleum and coal-fired power plants to generate electricity, then their EVs won’t be as clean. In summation, countries that depend heavily on fossil fuels for their electricity creation (United States) won’t have EVs that are as effective; countries (Norway and France) that rely on solar or renewable energy for electricity generation will have much more environmentally friendly EVs. Almost all emissions come from the tailpipes of vehicles or their fuel cycles, except for EVs in countries where a majority of electricity is generated from solar or other renewable forms of energy.

According to Carbon Brief (linked above), an EV purchased in the UK in 2019 had 3x lower carbon emissions over the course of its life than a traditional ICE.

This graph obtained from Carbon Brief compares the greenhouse gas emissions from conventional vehicles and a 2019 Nissan Leaf. Notice again how Norway and France have the least emissions due to their heavier reliance on renewable energy in charging their EVs.

Similar data from Carbon Brief points out that a new Nissan Leaf in the UK would cut overall lifetime emissions after only 4 years, compared to a traditional ICE vehicle. This means that after driving an EV in the UK for four yours, the owner would make up for the carbon expenditure it required to make the vehicle, and would be doing the environment a service in driving their EV.