Are electric cars really reducing CO₂ emissions?

Henk de Bruin — Sustainability Advisor
As Global Head of Sustainability in a large multinational I have been working on a broad range of topics for many years. I helped define the sustainability elements are relevant for the company and in which parts of the value chain those elements need to be addressed. I then followed up by measuring the company’s performance on said elements and identifying possible improvements, and worked on in- and external reporting.
Within Lightyear, I am applying that experience in the challenging environment of a fast-growing company focused on contributing to a sustainable society with its products and services. 
The three subjects I will discuss are: Carbon Footprint, Circular Economy and Supplier Sustainability.

Carbon Footprint

In our efforts to support the reduction of global warming, the benefit of an electric vehicle with no tailpipe emissions is clear. That benefit is enlarged substantially if such a car is solar driven because additional charging from the grid can be limited to none, depending on geography.

Indirect CO2 emissions of electric power plants supplying grid charging can be low or even zero when coming from renewable sources. Carbon emissions, however, also occur during the making of a car and at the end-of-life of a vehicle. At Lightyear, we are building up our insight of the total carbon footprint of the car in order to guide our efforts to optimize the carbon footprint over the life cycle of the car. In the illustration below, a high-level comparison with literature data of a comparable gasoline car, a Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV) and the Lightyear One.

This graph shows estimations of the production, use and end of life (EOL) amounts in tons of CO2-eq for different types of cars.

All three phases of the life cycle of any vehicle contribute to COemissions, but the use phase is the largest.

Indirect emissions of a Battery Electric Vehicle in the use phase are, on average, lower than gasoline cars, depending on the electricity mix (generation by coal, gas, oil, nuclear, renewables) of power plants.

In the graph above, the average European electricity mix is used, and the line of a gasoline car and a Battery Electric Vehicle cross each other between 40.000 – 60.000 km. If electricity is only generated by coal, the use phase part of the graph for a Battery Electric Vehicle is steeper and the crossing point with the line of a gasoline car goes farther to the right. When making comparisons, taking the electricity mix used into account is therefore always relevant.

Lowering the carbon footprint in the use phase for a Battery Electric Vehicle can be realized by changes in the electricity mix towards more renewables. The Lightyear One stands out in CO2 reduction during use because it has its own individual solar cells on board all the time and only needs limited charging from the grid.

In the graph below, the same estimations and conditions are expressed in grams CO2 per kilometer:


Compared to a gasoline car, an electric vehicle has a larger carbon footprint in the production and end-of-life phase caused by the production respectively recycling of the battery pack. The Lightyear One has a slightly lower carbon footprint in production because of our car’s optimized efficiency by which we can utilize a relatively small battery pack while still providing a broader range.

Circular Economy

At Lightyear, we see the transition from a linear to a circular economy as a necessary and complementary boundary condition. A circular economy aims to decouple economic growth from the use of natural resources and ecosystems by using those resources more effectively. Moreover, it is a driver for innovation in the areas of materials, component- and product reuse, as well as new business models such as solutions and services as illustrated below.

This image shows how Lightyear approaches the choice of materials, designing the parts, assembly of the car and the development of business models.
In a circular economy, the more effective use of materials enables us to create more value, both by cost savings and by developing new markets or growing existing ones.

Within Lightyear in our approach for the choice of materials, designing of parts, assembly of the car and the development of business models, we are in the process of incorporating the Circular Economy principles in our way of working.


Supplier Sustainability

Long-term strategic supplier relationships are important to bring our innovations to market. We aim to share with our suppliers a common goal of continuous improvement and operational excellence. At the same time, we expect our suppliers to meet the proper standards in terms of quality, ethics and sustainability and support driving improvements in social and environmental performance in our supply chain. Tools that have been developed aiming to cover that process are, amongst others, the assessment of supplier sustainability performance, management of regulated substances, conflict minerals and, in due course, circular procurement.


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