A new study by Argonne National Laboratory published on the official Energy.gov website finds that a small SUV powered by an electric power plant with about 300 miles of range produces far fewer greenhouse gases than a similarly sized SUV with a traditional internal combustion engine (ICE).
Considering that an electric vehicle (EV) produces no carbon emissions, this should serve as no surprise. What’s distinctive about this study is that it considers all aspects of a vehicle’s existence, incorporating a cradle-to-grave lifecycle. Thus, it encompasses the entirety of a car’s life, including sourcing the raw materials, vehicle manufacturing, emissions caused by the consumption of energy (whether that’s electrical or fossil fuels), the creation of the power source (including the manufacture of unleaded gasoline or the generation of electricity), and the gases generated during its disposal and recycling process.
The study also accounts for various scenarios of electricity production, averaging U.S. electric production and California electric production. In California, coal-burning accounts for 4.4 percent of electricity generation, with renewable sources like solar and wind accounting for about 25 percent. The U.S. averages 27.5 percent and 8 percent, respectively. The study also considers a vehicle built in 2020 using current technology and projections toward future technologies up to the year 2050.
The study finds that a 2020 small SUV powered by an ICE produces about 420 grams of greenhouse gases per mile driven. A 2020 all-electric vehicle generates about half of that, emitting 206 grams of greenhouse gases per mile. Meanwhile, a car built in 2050 is estimated to produce only about 43 grams.
While almost every car manufacturer has addressed the challenges associated with climate change with the addition of EVs or electrified vehicles in their lineup, some have already incorporated a cradle-to-grave mindset regarding carbon reduction. GM and Volvo, for instance, have embraced a zero-emissions goal for its EV battery production and disposal, while Polestar has been publishing Life Cycle Assessments for its vehicles and targets zero emissions from the cradle to the grave.