Category: International organisations, Policies and measures

Electric vehicles from life cycle and circular economy perspectives

A report written for the European Environment Agency that used an extensive literature review to analyse and synthesis the environmental impacts of electric vehicles though life cycle and circular economy perspectives.

This research report, written by Aether for the European Environment Agency, brings together existing evidence on the environmental impact of battery electric vehicles across their life cycle. Where possible, comparisons are made to internal combustion engine vehicles. The report also considers how a move to a circular economy could reduce the environmental impacts.

The challenge

It is expected that electric vehicles will be a key component of Europe’s future mobility system, with the potential for contributing to a reduction in the impacts of climate change and air pollution. By 2030, battery electric vehicles could represent up to 13% of new car registrations in Europe. This requires a better understanding of the environmental impacts of electric vehicles and to consider how these can be reduced in order to maximise potential benefits.

The solution

This report contributes towards a better understanding of battery electric vehicles from a system perspective. This involves an in-depth consideration of the environmental impact of these vehicles across all life cycle stages as well as taking into account broader considerations with a circular economy perspective. The report highlights areas where improvements could be made to minimise the environmental impacts of battery electric vehicles. It also identifies gaps in understanding where additional research would contribute to a better understanding of these impacts.

The result

Aether produced the report, now published on the European Environment Agency website, here.

Some key findings of the report are:

  • Battery electric vehicles offer important opportunities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and local air pollution
  • There are areas where battery electric vehicles could have negative environmental impacts such as through raw material extraction
  • There are areas of uncertainty, for example with end-of-life processing
  • The evidence base on electric vehicle life cycle impacts needs to be continually updated and developed. This should reflect the different electric vehicle makes and models, emerging data on real-world use and vehicle end-of-life processes.

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Richard German

Senior Consultant

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Umweltbundesamt: Environment Agency Austria

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Abbas Kitogo, Programme Specialist Energy and Climate Change, UNDP Tanzania

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