Before you draw conclusions about my mental fitness to question electric vehicle orthodoxy, please understand that I own a battery electric vehicle (BEV) and find it superior personal transportation technology. Saving the earth? Not so much.
There are many studies claiming BEV carbon emissions superiority to internal combustion engine (ICE) automobiles. There are also many studies making it clear the jury will be in session for many years before we have a definitive answer. At best, life cycle emissions comparing BEV’s with ICE automobiles is currently a wash, more BEV emissions up front versus more ICE emissions over time. Also, claims of efficiently recycling BEV batteries at scale to reduce life cycle emissions are unproven.
A recent study from Volvo needs to be seriously considered. Volvo concludes that carbon emissions from mining and processing materials in their BEV XC 40 are 70% greater than those from the comparable ICE XC40 model. They project cumulative BEV emissions begin to be lower than those from the comparable ICE model after 146,000 km (90,000 miles) based on electricity charging the BEV coming from the current global mix of power plant energy sources. That’s about 10 years of driving. The study makes no assumptions about emissions related to end of life recycling for either vehicle.
Volvo projects BEV versus ICE emissions break even at 84,000 km (52,000 miles) based on their measure of the power plant energy mix of the 28 European Union countries; again, without knowledge of comparable recycling emissions and costs. A bit better, but still a highly uncertain projection.
This Volvo study by a very interested and experienced participant in the automobile business makes clear that governments are chasing a marginal and uncertain (if not phantom) benefit in subsidizing and promoting BEVs. This compares to known and real CO2 emission benefits from nuclear and solar power.
BEVs are the wrong initial focus for government subsidies if the goal is to materially impact carbon emissions with any certainty. Emphasis on lowering power grid carbon emissions will provide the foundation upon which BEVs may make both environmental and economic sense in the long run. If they really want tangible results, governments need to stop subsidizing BEVs and spend those dollars on a major program to put nuclear back into the power generation mix while also promoting utility scale solar fields.