Scrutinising the electric vehicle material backpack
Journal article, 2018
Conventionally the use phase of a road vehicle contributes to more than 70% of the total environmental impact in terms of energy use or emissions of greenhouse gases. This figure is no longer valid concerning electric vehicles and a shift to other life cycle stages and impacts is expected and should be re-evaluated. The goal of this study is to assess the environmental performance of two prototype vehicle drivetrains; an internal combustion engine and an electric motor, from a life cycle perspective. The assessment is performed in a qualitative manner using the Environmentally Responsible Product Assessment (ERPA) matrix. The two vehicles in this study have similar car body construction, providing an excellent opportunity to highlight the significance of material differences in their drivetrains. The internal combustion vehicle demonstrated a better environmental performance in three out of five lifecycle stages (pre-manufacture, product manufacture, and disposal). In all of these stages, the impact of the electric vehicle is determined by the burden of the materials needed for this technology such as rare earth elements (REE) and by the lack of recycling possibilities. The study demonstrated a need to close the material cycle when it comes to Critical Raw Materials (CRM) such as REE which can only be achieved when the technology but also the incentives for material recovery are provided, i.e. by promoting the development of cost-efficient recycling technologies. Moreover, the need for relevant metrics and assessment indicators is demonstrated to be able to compare the two technologies fairly.
Critical raw materials
Rare earth elements
Internal combustion engine vehicle
Environmentally Responsible Product Assessment