For example, Polestar (a manufacturer of pure electric vehicles) recently published an LCA analysis for the Polestar 2 vehicle compared to a Volvo XC40 (Figure 2). They estimated the crossover point to be anywhere between 50,000 and 112,000km, meaning you need to drive the electric vehicle this distance before you have “paid back” the front-loaded CO2 emissions in the manufacturing process, with the CO2 reduction from using electricity rather than a fossil fuel. The range of payback distances depends on the carbon intensity (gCO2e/kWh) of electricity grid used for charging, in this case the lower end for wind (i.e. 100% renewable electricity) and the higher end for a global average.
However, as is common in these types of analysis, the effect of hybridisation and sustainable fuels are conspicuously omitted. Sustainable fuels are a carbon neutral source of energy (utilising carbon captured from the atmosphere or recovered from waste feedstocks), that are economically viable and socially acceptable to end users. They can come from a variety of sources/processes including biofuels, synthetic fuels and e-fuels. If we perform further analysis and include these effects we get the results shown in Figure 3.
Simply by running the conventional ICE vehicle on a 100% sustainable fuel (in this case our 95RON drop-in biogasoline which offers >80% (RED II) GHG savings over a conventional fossil fuel), the CO2 emissions after 200,000km are within <20% of those of a BEV running on 100% renewable electricity.
If the powertrain is assumed to be a plug-in hybrid, firstly the embedded emissions are reduced due to the smaller battery pack (100km range). If this vehicle is then charged with 100% renewable electricity when plugged in, the CO2 emissions after 200,000km are a little more than the BEV and the conventional ICE on sustainable fuels. If we now allow the PHEV to run on sustainable fuel as well, the CO2 emissions after 200,000km are less than 7.5% more than the pure BEV running on 100% renewable electricity and substantially less than a BEV recharging on the UK grid.
Many researchers dismiss this approach, claiming that there is not enough biomass available in order to replace all the fossil fuel available on our forecourts but this misses the fact that we do not need to replace it all in one go. The petrol available at the pump is already a blend of many components and it’s perfectly feasible to start replacing more of the fossil-components with sustainable components.
To some extent this has already started. The petrol at the pump can currently include up to 5% bioethanol (E5) and this is set to increase to 10% (E10) for the standard grade, 95RON fuel. But we can go further than that by replacing more of the remaining 90% fossil gasoline with bio-gasoline. Even at a level of 10% bio-gasoline, this would result in 20% of our fuel coming from renewable sources, and we can ramp that up over time as incentives and investments scale up the industry.