Life Cycle Assesment of Battery Electric and Internal Combustion Engine Vehicles: Case Studies Considering Multiple Factors

Publication Type:

Conference Paper


Gerpisa colloquium, Brussels (2023)


electric vehicles, Environmental Impact, Life Cycle Assessment


The consequences and the damages of human action on the environment is one of the main topics of interest of the last decades and will continue to be in the foreseeable future. Such interest is confirmed by the large number of conferences and global agreements centred on the topic, such as, but not limited to, the Kyoto Protocol and the COP26 (UNFCCC, 1998; COP26, 2021). Among the numerous impacts, the high levels of Greenhouse Gases emissions (GHG) caused by humanity have received significant attention, especially due to its contribution to Global Warming. There are various emitting sources Greenhouse Gases that have received significant interest in the last decades, with multiple efforts towards reducing human impact on the environment. One of such sources are light duty vehicles, globally the main mean of individual transportation, currently facing an ever-growing transition movement, from internal combustion engine vehicles towards electric vehicles (IEA, 2022).
The study and research of the environmental impact of both powertrain technologies has been a significant topic of interest in literature in the past decade (AICHBERGER; JUNGMEIER, 2020; BUBERGER et al., 2022). However, despite a significant number of published studies, there is still a significant lack of understanding of the real impact of electric vehicles. Mainly, aspects such as automotive battery production and recycling, the influence of driving patterns and battery capacity fade are far from having a consensus among literature sources. In Brazil, the gap is even larger, as currently there is not a sufficient number of studies that cover the topic on a satisfactory level.
The present article aims to contribute towards a deeper level of understanding of the environmental impact of electric vehicles versus internal combustion engine vehicles, comparing their total emissions taking into consideration their entire Life Cycle Assessments, considering the context of São Paulo, so to confirm if the former is in fact the best option to reduce the human impact on the environment. The selected scope of a Global South metropolis is relevant to literature, given the prevalence of studies in literature being conducted in China, Europe or North America (AICHBERGER; JUNGMEIER, 2020; PETERS et al., 2017).
In order to achieve the above-mentioned goal, an introduction and contextualization of the problem is presented, followed by a review of the main studies in literature. Next, a Life Cycle Assessment of an electric vehicle and an internal combustion engine vehicle is performed, using the GREET database and software, so that the GHG emissions are evaluated on a cradle-to-grave basis. The GREET model is an automotive LCA tool developed by the Argonne National Laboratory, and has been extensively used in literature studies that perform Automotive LCAs (DAI et. al; 2019; QIAO et al., 2019; AICHBERGER; JUNGMEIER, 2020).
The scope of the article adopts as possible fuels for the ICEV both gasoline and sugarcane ethanol. For the EV, four scenarios of electricity generation mix are evaluated: Brazil, Europe, Italy, and 100% Natural Gas (SCHOEMAKER; 1995). Furthermore, other parameters often ignored are incorporated in the analysis, such as the driving cycle, the driving pattern, and automotive battery capacity fade. Such parameters are analysed given the regional conditions of the city of São Paulo.
Results support the conclusion that EVs, given the evaluated conditions, are the best option for the reduction of GHG emissions, while sugarcane ethanol is also very beneficial. Gasoline fuelled ICEVs are shown to be by far the worst alternative among the three. Key contributions of the study involve the development and application of an automotive LCA methodology, which contributes to a broader comprehension of the GHG emissions throughout all phases of light duty vehicles’ lifecycle. Moreover, the study addresses Global South regional conditions, a not often discussed scope in literature. Finally, the results can be of practical use, serving as guidance to decision making on urban mobility public policies.

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