Is an electric car really greener than an internal combustion car? Even if we include emissions from production, mining, charging, refueling and the whole life cycle of both cars? Volvo made an interesting contribution to this debate. She published her own study, which compares the carbon footprint of an electric car C40 and a classic SUV XC40 with a conventional engine.
The production of an electric car produces 70% more emissions than the production of the same car with an internal combustion engine. This is probably the most significant conclusion of a study published by the Swedish carmaker Volvo Motors.
It was based on a comparison of its own models: the electric SUV coupe C40 Recharge and the classic variant of the compact SUV XC40 with a petrol engine. Related models stand on the same platform and share a number of parts, the electric SUV coupe is a bit more aerodynamic thanks to its sloping rear.
The carbon footprint of each was compared. The extraction of the necessary raw materials and the individual production processes of the component suppliers were also reflected in the emissions arising during production.
It has been confirmed that electric cars have a dirtier carbon footprint before they even leave the assembly line. The battery itself, which can account for almost a third of production emissions, has a lot of results in terms of materials and parts. More aluminum is used in the production, the production of which is very energy-intensive.
Electric cars are greener only during operation
However, the turning point comes when the carbon footprint begins to count over the life of the car. Volvo set it at 200,000 kilometers and took into account the overall results, operation, refueling, combustion emissions and subsequent recycling and disposal of the car.
The electric car then begins to be “greener” and its total carbon footprint calculated for the entire life cycle of the car is cleaner than the conventional version.
Volvo even calculated when the break would occur. Of course, it depends on how the electricity is produced, which the electric car charges – so the carmaker has compiled three scenarios:
Using the current global energy mix (about 60% of its electricity is made from fossil fuels), the electric Volvo C40 has to travel almost 110,000 kilometers (109,918 km) before it becomes more environmentally friendly than its internal combustion engineer. Taking into account production and operation during the entire life cycle, the electric car would generate 15% less emissions than the combustion version.
But once experts calculated the energy mix in the European Union alone, total emissions fell by 30% and the turning point came much earlier. Simply because the EU uses more renewables than the global average. The carbon footprint of the electric C40 has matched the combustion XC40 after only 77,000 kilometers (77,248 km).
The third scenario is still more theoretical – it assumes that only electricity from renewable sources would be used to recharge the electric car. The total carbon footprint of an electric car would then be half that of an internal combustion engine, and electricity would begin to “pay off” ecologically as soon as less than 50,000 kilometers (48,280 km). Even with the exclusive use of “green electricity”, the C40 Recharge will leave a track of around 27 tonnes of CO2 over its entire life cycle.
Volvo: We need clean energy
According to the carmaker, Volvo’s research shows that electric cars are not automatically “greener” than cars with conventional engines, but can become greener during their operation. Volvo is thus calling for more investment in clean energy so that the potential of electric cars can be fully exploited. “We need green energy throughout the supply chain and production, not just charging,” said Jonas Otterheim, head of Climate Action at Volvo.
Volvo, which belongs to the Chinese giant Geely, introduced its electric SUV coupe C40 Recharge only this spring, the electric version XC40 Recharge has been offering since 2019. It has very ambitious plans in electrification in Europe – until 2030 it wants to offer only electric cars and internal combustion engines from its completely eliminate portfolios.
As early as 2025, Volvo wants to emit 40% less CO2 per car than in 2018. Of this, it wants to get rid of a quarter of its emissions during production – including an increased share of recycled materials, including aluminum.
According to a recent study by the European Transport and Environment Federation, Volvo and Volkswagen are the only two large carmakers in Europe that have sufficiently consistent and credible strategies to move to electromobility and meet the goals of the Green Agreement. Volkswagen wants to sell 55% of flashlight cars by 2030.