Major new LCA study provides insight on approaches to estimating environmental impacts of vehicles and fuels

The EU’s recent Green Deal is another step in the direction of decarbonised energy and transport systems in Europe.  It is therefore critical to accurately measure and understand life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental impacts of energy sources, fuels and vehicles to ensure policy decisions favour technologies with significant environmental benefits.  Consequently, life-cycle analysis of vehicles and fuels remains an area of debate with regards to its scope and boundaries, the methodological choices made to assess emissions and the data used.  These are all very important aspects in terms of how well LCAs reflect the actual impact on the environment and what it means for the industry and for policy makers. 


In this context, Ricardo, E4tech and IFEU have carried out a “Pilot study on determining the environmental impacts of conventional and alternatively fuelled vehicles through Life Cycle Assessment (LCA).”   The primary objective was to explore and compare existing and alternative approaches to the LCA of road vehicles, including the fuels and electricity used, based on literature and stakeholder consultation, and to understand the impacts of methodological choices and data sources on the LCA results over the time period 2020 to 2050.  


The “Well-to-Wheel” environmental impacts of six vehicle types, incorporating 14 electricity chains and 60 fuel chains were evaluated using state-of-the-art LCA approaches.  Specifically, E4tech led the fuels LCA, covering fossil fuels, biofuels and e-fuels, and focused on exploring novel LCA approaches to characterise fuel chains. For example, energy allocation is used to assess the impact of co-products in the EU Renewable Energy Directive, and this study compared this approach to the use of a substitution method.  Also, ‘Counterfactual’ impacts in the context of secondary feedstocks (e.g. wastes and residues), which are normally assumed to enter the system ‘burden free’, were explored.  In addition, global land-use change emissions factors for primary biofuels were considered. 


While the results of the study should not be taken as a definitive view of the comparative environmental impacts of the fuel and vehicle types analysedthey do highlight important environmental hotspots in fuel and vehicle value chains and the impact of LCA methodological and data choices on the modelling of environmental impacts.  


The study provides a set of recommendations to policy makers for future research and policy developments around the application of LCA to vehicles and fuels.  For example, the use of counterfactual and substitution approaches will require further modelling of scenarios to determine feedstocks or fuel production chains which may be at high risk of causing indirect impacts through their use in fuel production, and to provide guidance on how to address these. 

The full project report, along with a result viewer (allowing stakeholders to explore the complete set of results for electricity production, fuels production and the overall vehicle LCA) and accompanying documents, are available at this link.


For any enquiries about the project and report, please contact

E4tech would like to acknowledge the significant contribution of Sabine Ziem-Milojević to the project.

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