Electric Vehicles

Life-cycle tradeoffs of plug-ins

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Science  20 May 2016:
Vol. 352, Issue 6288, pp. 950-951
DOI: 10.1126/science.352.6288.950-c

Roger Wallace in his electric car, 1899.

PHOTO: © HERITAGE IMAGE PARTNERSHIP LTD / ALAMY STOCK PHOTO

Shifting to electric passenger vehicles ideally will reduce the carbon footprint of the transportation sector. Two recent studies, however, show that the greenhouse gas emissions produced over the life cycle of electric vehicles, from production through use, may not always be less than those of gasoline-burning vehicles. Ellingsen et al. reveal that vehicle and battery size prohibit some larger electric vehicles from ever overcoming the high greenhouse gas emissions generated during production. Yuksel et al. show that regional factors in the United States such as electrical grid mix, temperature, and driving conditions strongly limit the potential of plug-in electric vehicles to out-perform high-efficiency gas vehicles. Blanket policies directed at the adoption of electric vehicles therefore could potentially fail to reduce the transportation sector's large carbon footprint.

Environ. Res. Lett. 11, 054010, 044007 (2016).

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