Fuels Institute Report Shows Differences in Carbon Emissions

The new study compares the life cycles of electric, internal combustion and hybrid electric vehicles.

January 25, 2022

Inside of an EV

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—The Fuels Institute has released a new report evaluating the life-cycle carbon emissions of electric, internal combustion and hybrid electric vehicles.

The report, “Life Cycle Analysis Comparison – Electric and Internal Combustion Engine Vehicles,” evaluates the life-cycle environmental impact of three vehicle types: battery electric vehicles (BEV), internal combustion engine vehicles (ICEV) and hybrid electric vehicles (HEV). It compares the energy sources that power them, the effect of external variables on life-cycle carbon emissions and the corresponding total cost of ownership that affects consumers.

“The Fuels Institute was not seeking to publish a definitive answer to the debate concerning which vehicles are cleaner, but rather we wanted to provide an objective evaluation to help guide discussions focused on how we might improve emissions throughout the transportation market,” said Fuels Institute Executive Director John Eichberger.

The report found that based upon the U.S. average electricity sector, BEVs emit 41% fewer tons of greenhouse gases than comparable ICEVs. HEVs emit 29% fewer tons of greenhouse gases than ICEVs and 21% more than BEVs. In low carbon electricity markets, BEVs emit 71% fewer tons of greenhouse gases than ICEVs; in extremely high carbon electricity markets, BEVs emit 16% more than ICEVs and 59% more than HEVs.

Seventy-two percent of greenhouse gases emitted by BEVs are associated with electricity generation. Over a 10-year period, on average, BEVs and HEVs represent an 8% lower total cost to own compared with an ICEV, driven primarily by lower fuel expenditures.

“Decarbonization of electricity appears to be the biggest driver in reducing the life-cycle emissions from the vehicle, followed by technological advancements in vehicle systems. Larger scale adoption propels the technology growth faster due to economies of scale,” writes the report.

Based on current adoption trends and states where BEVs operate, the report authors project that BEVs will be less carbon intense than ICE vehicles after 19,000 miles of operation.

The report also compares the total cost of owning a BEV, HEV and ICE vehicle. BEVs are the least expensive to own in the long run but the most expensive vehicle at purchase. Overall, a BEV saves the owner about $10,000 over the ICE vehicle.