China’s Electric Car Emissions Reductions Increasing Rapidly Over Time

Chinese EVs achieve greater emissions reductions over time due to improved efficiency and a greener power grid, states a study. While over 10% of Chinese car sales are now electric, the entire life cycle of EVs still generates carbon emissions. Shaojun Zhang and colleagues conducted comprehensive “cradle-to-grave” assessments of EVs in 2015 and 2020, covering fuel-cycle and material-cycle phases, and compiled life-cycle projections for 2030.

Well-to-Wheel CO2 emissions for China’s BEVs in national grid and sub-grids (2015, 2020, and 2030). Image Credit: Wang et al. via PNAS Nexus.

They considered factors such as electricity sources, vehicle fuel efficiency, key automotive metals, and battery technologies. In 2020, battery electric vehicles emitted around 40% fewer emissions throughout their life cycle compared to internal combustion engine vehicles, while in 2015, this difference was only 23%. This decline in emissions resulted from multiple factors but was primarily driven by improved operational efficiency.

Looking ahead to 2030, the authors predict that transitioning to nickel-cobalt-manganese batteries, combined with a cleaner electricity mix, could lead to a 53% emissions reduction throughout the entire life cycle of EVs compared to internal combustion vehicles. Regional variations add complexity; for instance, the northern regions of China rely more on coal for electricity production than other areas. Nonetheless, the authors assert that even in the North, EVs can deliver significant emissions reduction benefits.

CO2 emission intensities for major metals and their contribution to a passenger car. Panel a) indicates the average CO2 emission intensity of major metal production as well as the CO2 emission intensity of primary and recycled metal production. Panel b) estimates the CO2 emissions associated with the production of major metals per passenger vehicle. Credit: Wang et al. via PNAS

 Nexus Average life-cycle CO2 emissions for NCM and LFP batteries (2015, 2020, and 2030). The error bars indicate the emission variations associated with the battery manufacture process according to the investigation data of five plants. The 2020 advanced levels of NCM and LFP are estimated with the advanced energy density (180 Wh kg−1 for NCM and 140 Wh kg−1 for LFP, both at the pack level) and manufacture-related CO2 emissions data. Credit: Wang et al. via PNAS

C2G CO2 emissions of ICEV and BEV during 2015–2030 with the national-average electricity mixes. The error bars represent the variability of WTW CO2 emissions due to the different electricity mixes across various subgrids. Credit: Wang et al. via PNAS Nexus

Drivers on decarbonizing NCM-BEVs from 2015 to 2030. The drivers are categorized into two phases (WTW and vehicle cycle) and four major parts: P, power generation; V, vehicle performance [e.g. vehicle weight, energy consumption (EC)]; B, battery performance (e.g. battery size and energy density); and M, metal production. See Fig. S1 for the results of LFP-BEVs. Credit: Wang et al. via PNAS Nexus

PNAS Nexus journal article: “Multisectoral drivers of decarbonizing battery electric vehicles in China,” by Fang Wang, Shaojun Zhang, Yinan Zhao, Yunxiao Ma, Yichen Zhang, Anders Hove, and Ye Wu.

Courtesy of Newswise & PNAS Nexus.


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