For the last 70 years, we’ve believed that we can all drive our automobiles and that there is no limit to how big they can be. Big, fast electric cars (EVs) are generating a lot of buzzes these days. Will transitioning from gasoline-powered automobiles to similar-sized electric vehicles allow us to achieve net-zero carbon emissions? A common medium-range EV such as Tesla Model 3 emits more than the entire per capita emissions allowed to reach net-zero emissions globally, even if fueled and built with clean electricity.
Global carbon emissions are currently at 36 million tonnes CO2e but have not yet reached their peak. The 1.5 billion or more of us who drive vehicles, eat red meat, fly, as well as utilize advanced constructed infrastructure are principally responsible for these emissions. As more people achieve their goals, the number continues to rise. The Earth’s flora and seas can absorb around 55 percent of this carbon; atmospheric CO2 would remain constant if human-created emissions were decreased by 45 percent and gradually decrease if emissions were decreased further to zero.
Emissions factor (EF) of these fuels is used to calculate the operational emissions of IC cars. Electricity is expected to come from renewable sources 90 percent of the time, with an EF of 0.1 kg CO2e for every kWh. With today’s technologies, this is feasible and cost-effective.
Embedded emissions from vehicles
Embodied emissions from the manufacture and upkeep of fueled cars are around 8 tCO2e for every tonne of vehicle weight, accounting for around 25% of the fueled vehicle’s life cycle emissions. The mining, processing, as well as smelting of resources account for more than 75% of all costs. Steel and other metal, as well as plastic components, are created from fossil fuels. Steel manufacturing using “green” hydrogen is only beginning to gain traction and converting all of the industry’s output will take decades. By injecting hydrogen into current furnaces, emissions can be reduced by up to 24%.
A new steel-making process that uses only green hydrogen may possibly reduce carbon emissions by a maximum of 97 percent. To provide the hydrogen for steel production alone, all smelters had to be substituted with the new technique, and zero-emission energy equivalent to 25% of current world output would have to be constructed.
Batteries’ embodied emissions
The battery manufacturing industry produces many emissions, with electric drying chambers accounting for roughly half of them. The other major component is lithium, aluminum, nickel, and copper mining and processing. Estimates vary from 150 kg CO2e/MWh (Asian plants), 106 kg CO2e/MWh (modern European plants), and 61 kg CO2e/MWh (theoretical near-zero-emissions electricity). A long-range 90 kWh battery measuring 585kg produced in Europe today would emit 9.5 t CO2e, or 16 t CO2e per kilogram of battery weight (a maximum of 50 percent higher if made in Asia).