electric vehicle in winter charging

Electric car supply chain carbon emissions lower than ICE vehicles, study finds

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The total indirect emissions from electric vehicles pale in comparison to the indirect emissions from fossil fuel-powered vehicles, a Yale University study has found.

Indirect emissions include those produced by the supply chains of the vehicle components and the fuels used to create the electricity that charges the vehicles.

“The surprising element was how much lower the emissions of electric vehicles were,” said researcher Stephanie Weber. “The supply chain for combustion vehicles is just so dirty that electric vehicles can’t surpass them, even when you factor in indirect emissions.”

The research team combined concepts from energy economics and industrial ecology – carbon pricing, life cycle assessment, and modelling energy systems – to find if carbon emissions were still reduced when indirect emissions from the electric vehicle supply chain were factored in.

“A major concern about electric vehicles is that the supply chain, including the mining and processing of raw materials and the manufacturing of batteries, is far from clean,” said Professor Ken Gillingham.

“So, if we priced the carbon embodied in these processes, the expectation is electric vehicles would be exorbitantly expensive. It turns out that’s not the case; if you level the playing field by also pricing the carbon in the fossil fuel vehicle supply chain, electric vehicle sales would actually increase.”

The study also considered future technological change, such as decarbonisation of the electricity supply, and found this strengthened the result that electric vehicles dominate when indirect supply chain emissions are accounted for.

The research team gathered data using a system which models the entire US energy grid using detailed information from the current domestic energy system and a forecast of the future of the electric system.

The study shows that “the elephant in the room is the supply chain of fossil fuel-powered vehicles, not that of electric vehicles,” study lead Paul Wolfram said.

He added a faster we switch to electric vehicles would be better for the climate overall, especially in countries with a sufficiently decarbonised electricity supply, like the US.

Last month, the UK Government introduced a new law to force the installation of electric vehicle charging points in new homes in England from next year.

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