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Measuring a car’s true carbon footprint with a life-cycle perspective

Light-weighting has been a focus in automotive and sustainability, especially for reducing emissions from combustion engines. With the introduction of electric vehicles (EVs) and hybrid technologies, though, life-cycle assessments are gaining traction in order to establish the real carbon footprint of a vehicle.

For many years, emissions targets were measured primarily as the CO2 emissions from the car’s tailpipe. Over the last 15 years, this has reduced emissions from cars by 30-40%. Fifteen years ago, an average European car emitted 165 grams of CO2 per kilometer. Today, the target is 95 grams CO2 per kilometer.

“Engines have become more efficient, giving more power for less emissions. But aluminium has also played a key role in reducing emissions, as 100 kilos of aluminium may replace 200 kilos of steel,” says Lars André Moen, Director of Innovation in Hydro’s Primary Metal business area.

Profile of Lars Moen
Lars Moen, Director of Innovation in Hydro’s Primary Metal business area

Going from combustion engines to hybrid and electrical vehicles changes the sustainability equation for the automotive industry. When emissions from the tailpipe are significantly reduced or eliminated, it means the true footprint in the automotive industry must be measured by other parameters.

“Sales of electrical vehicles are strong in Europe. Going forward, we will still talk about emissions from cars, but in a different way. It’s not just the emissions coming out of the car itself, but emissions when producing the car and in a life-cycle perspective. That includes the production of the car, the battery and other components,” says Moen.

To extend driving range and reduce emissions, light-weighting is still on the table in the automotive industry.

“Many of the same laws that benefit combustion engineering apply for electrical vehicles as well. Batteries are heavy, and aluminium is light. If you carry less weight, you can increase driving range for the same energy – whether the car has a petrol, diesel, hybrid, or electrical drivetrain,” says Moen.

“For life-cycle assessment of electrical vehicles, it matters how materials are produced, but also where you are charging your car. Carbon emissions from the grid also add to the life-cycle assessment. In Europe, around 40% of the European grid mix is from renewables. But still, the other 60% counts a lot in the lifecycle assessment,” says Moen.

If you want to learn more about sustainability in automotive, listen to Lars André Moen in the podcast Hydro Talks:

The podcast Hydro Talks sets out to explore the modern dilemmas for industry and society. How can we create a more viable society? How can we produce better while consuming less? What should investors expect? What kind of technology and innovation can we implement to work smarter? In Hydro Talks we try to make sense out of these dilemmas. Remember to subscribe! 

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