If a sales ban on new gasoline and diesel cars were introduced and replaced by electric cars, it would lead to a significant reduction in carbon dioxide emissions. This is the result of new research from the Swedish Technical University of Chalmers looking at emissions across the entire life cycle – from the production of electric cars and batteries to the electricity used to run them. However, the overall effect of phasing out fossil fuel cars will not be felt until mid-century – and how the batteries are made will affect the magnitude of the benefits.
Rapid and compulsory gradual introduction of electric cars could lead to emissions from Swedish passenger car exhausts approaching zero by 2045. The Swedish government has proposed a total ban on the sale of new fossil-fueled cars from 2030 – but this alone will not be enough to meet the Swedish climate targets on time.
“Due to the lifespan of the cars currently on the road and those that would be sold before such a restriction was introduced, it would take some time – around 20 years – for the full effect to be seen,” says Johannes Morfeldt, researcher at Physical Resource Theory at Chalmers University of Technology and lead author of the recently published scientific study.
To achieve the desired effect, a ban would either have to be introduced earlier, by 2025, or if the ban is not introduced until 2030, the use of biofuels in gasoline and diesel vehicles must increase significantly by then – in line with the revised one Swedish “reduction commitment”. The combination of these two measures would mean that there would be no emissions from passenger cars and that the Swedish climate targets would be met.
“The results of our study show that a rapid electrification of the Swedish vehicle fleet would reduce life cycle emissions from 14 million tons of carbon dioxide in 2020 to 3 to 5 million tons by 2045. The end result in 2045 will mainly depend on the extent to which possible emissions reductions are achieved in the manufacturing sector, ”says Johannes Morfeldt.
A transition from gasoline and diesel cars to electric cars will mean increased demand for batteries. Batteries for electric cars are often criticized, not least because they lead to high greenhouse gas emissions during manufacture.
“There are relatively good ways to reduce emissions from global battery manufacturing. Our review of the relevant literature shows that average emissions from global battery manufacturing could decrease by around two thirds per kilowatt hour of battery capacity by 2045. Most battery production takes place overseas, however, so that Swedish decision-makers have only limited opportunities to influence this question, ”says Johannes Morfeldt.
From a climatic point of view, it does not matter where the emissions take place, and the risk with decisions at national level to reduce car emissions is that they can lead to increased emissions elsewhere – a phenomenon sometimes referred to as “CO2- Leakage “is designated. In this case, the increase in emissions would result from a higher demand for batteries, and therefore the higher the emissions from battery production, the greater the risk.
In this case, the Swedish decision would not have as great an impact on reducing the climate impact as desired. The life cycle emissions would be in the upper range – around 5 million tons of carbon dioxide instead of around 3 million tons. For this reason, there may be a reason to regulate emissions in both vehicle and battery production from a life cycle perspective.
“In the EU, for example, there is discussion about establishing a common standard for the manufacture of batteries and vehicles – similar to the way there is a standard that regulates what can be emitted from exhaust gases,” says Johannes Morfeldt.
Indeed, given Sweden’s low emissions from power generation, a ban on the sale of new fossil fuel cars would greatly reduce the overall climate impact, regardless of how manufacturing develops.
The study’s results are based on Swedish conditions, but the method used by the researchers can be used to get equivalent figures for other countries based on each country’s vehicle fleet and energy system. The year 2045 is highlighted because then greenhouse gas emissions in Sweden should reach net zero in accordance with the country’s climate policy goals.
Read more about the revised Swedish “reduction commitment”:
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