VW: CO2 balance of electric cars, diesel & petrol

Volkswagen has before the launch of its new electric car ID.3 Last year, the focus was particularly on sustainability. The compact car will Produced CO2-neutrally and can then be operated in a climate-friendly manner by customers using green electricity. In the new year, the Wolfsburg-based company will confirm the CO2 balance of the ID.3 and of electric cars in general with an evaluation.

Employees from Technical Development at Volkswagen used the ID.3 as an example to examine how the CO2 balance of electric cars in Europe compares with combustion engines. “With a clear result,” they say. According to this, an electric vehicle already has a better CO2 balance on a European average. The Volkswagen employees have drawn up balances certified by TÜV with current models of the compact class in order to compare a battery electric vehicle (BEV) with a modern gasoline engine and diesel. For a fair comparison, the models were selected so that the features and performance are as similar as possible, explains Volkswagen.

Fig. 1: Comparison of the CO₂ balance of electric, diesel & gasoline vehicles in the European compact class (click to enlarge)

Figure 1 of the evaluation shows that the production of a BEV currently causes significantly higher CO2 emissions than the production of conventional vehicles. The manufacturing phase contains all CO2 emissions from the “cradle-to-gate” value chain – starting with the extraction of raw materials, through the manufacture of preliminary products and components, to production in the Volkswagen factories. Despite the higher emissions in the manufacturing phase, the BEV already achieves significant savings over diesel and gasoline engines over a period of 200,000 kilometers with an average European electricity mix.

Fig. 3 Significant improvement in the battery's carbon footprint
Fig. 2: CO2 hotspots during the production of a BEV (click to enlarge)

In Figure 2 it can be seen that at BEV, the production of the lithium-ion battery for the drive is the decisive factor in the CO2 balance. Not only is the energy requirement in cell production important, the processes in the supply chain are also relevant: “Raw material production, cathode material production and the graphite for the anode have a considerable influence on the CO2 balance,” explains Volkswagen.

Compared to the battery that was used in the e-Golf, which expired in 2020, the new battery generation of the ID.3 has made “enormous” progress. With the new cathode material, the battery capacity has been significantly increased compared to the previous generation with the same material expenditure. At the same time, Volkswagen agreed with the suppliers of the battery cells that electricity from renewable sources would be used. With these two measures, the specific CO2 footprint was reduced from 110 to 62 kg CO2 / kWh (see Figure 3).

Fig. 2 CO₂ hotspots during the manufacture of a BEV
Fig. 3: Improving the battery’s carbon footprint (click to enlarge)

Volkswagen notes that there is still great potential for reduction in the rest of the value chain, for example in cathode material production or graphite for the anode. In addition to the potential in the battery supply chain, the company is currently analyzing measures for other “hotspots” such as steel or aluminum. Electricity from renewable energies is already being purchased at the BEV production site in Zwickau.

Charging with green electricity is important

Volkswagen emphasizes that the BEV’s charging current is even more important than improving the supply chain. Even with today’s European electricity mix, the BEV significantly reduces CO2 emissions. With the energy transition, the electricity mix will be continuously lower in CO2, which has a correspondingly positive effect on the BEV’s CO2 balance. “No other energy source has already been decarbonised as strongly as electricity, and no other energy source describes further decarbonisation so clearly. This means that the BEV is the technology that already has the greatest climate effect today and whose CO2 reduction will be even greater in the future, ”said the Wolfsburg-based company.

As renewable electricity is a valuable resource, it should be used as efficiently as possible, emphasizes Volkswagen. For mobility applications, the direct use of electricity in the form of battery-electric driving is more efficient than all other alternatives. Therefore, locally generated, CO2-neutral electricity should be used with priority in BEVs – and plug-in hybrid vehicles. Economic analyzes of various energy sources and drives, including possible imports of synthetic fuels (“e-fuels”) or so-called regenerative hydrogen (eH2) from sunny and windy regions, showed that battery-electric driving is the most cost-effective solution for the majority of customers.

“E-mobility makes it possible to achieve a significant CO2 effect with technology that is already available today, and thus makes an important contribution by Volkswagen on the way to achieving the Paris climate goals,” Volkswagen concludes.

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