Environmental impacts of hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and battery electric vehicles—what can we learn from life cycle assessment?
Review article, 2014

Purpose The purpose of this review article is to investigate the usefulness of different types of life cycle assessment (LCA) studies of electrified vehicles to provide robust and relevant stakeholder information. It presents synthesized conclusions based on 79 papers. Another objective is to search for explanations to divergence and “complexity” of results found by other overviewing papers in the research field, and to compile methodological learnings. The hypothesis was that such divergence could be explained by differences in goal and scope definitions of the reviewed LCA studies. Methods The review has set special attention to the goal and scope formulation of all included studies. First, completeness and clarity have been assessed in view of the ISO standard’s (ISO 2006a, b) recommendation for goal definition. Secondly, studies have been categorized based on technical and methodological scope, and searched for coherent conclusions. Results and discussion Comprehensive goal formulation according to the ISO standard (ISO 2006a, b) is absent in most reviewed studies. Few give any account of the time scope, indicating the temporal validity of results and conclusions. Furthermore, most studies focus on today’s electric vehicle technology, which is under strong development. Consequently, there is a lack of future time perspective, e.g., to advances in material processing, manufacturing of parts, and changes in electricity production. Nevertheless, robust assessment conclusions may still be identified. Most obvious is that electricity production is the main cause of environmental impact for externally chargeable vehicles. If, and only if, the charging electricity has very low emissions of fossil carbon, electric vehicles can reach their full potential in mitigating global warming. Consequently, it is surprising that almost no studies make this stipulation a main conclusion and try to convey it as a clear message to relevant stakeholders. Also, obtaining resources can be observed as a key area for future research. In mining, leakage of toxic substances from mine tailings has been highlighted. Efficient recycling, which is often assumed in LCA studies of electrified vehicles, may reduce demand for virgin resources and production energy. However, its realization remains a future challenge. Conclusions LCA studies with clearly stated purposes and time scope are key to stakeholder lessons and guidance. It is also necessary for quality assurance. LCA practitioners studying hybrid and electric vehicles are strongly recommended to provide comprehensive and clear goal and scope formulation in line with the ISO standard (ISO 2006a, b).

Electric vehicle







Anders Nordelöf

Chalmers, Energy and Environment, Environmental Systems Analysis

Maarten Messagie

Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB)

Anne-Marie Tillman

Chalmers, Energy and Environment, Environmental Systems Analysis

Maria Ljunggren Söderman

Chalmers, Energy and Environment, Environmental Systems Analysis

Joeri Van Mierlo

Chalmers, Energy and Environment, Environmental Systems Analysis

International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment

0948-3349 (ISSN) 1614-7502 (eISSN)

Vol. 2014 11 1866-1890

Driving Forces

Sustainable development

Areas of Advance


Subject Categories

Energy Systems

Environmental Sciences

Other Natural Sciences

Other Electrical Engineering, Electronic Engineering, Information Engineering



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