While zero-emission trucks release no direct tailpipe emissions during operation, they are still responsible for generating greenhouse gases during the production of fuels like electricity and hydrogen, and through the production and disposal of the vehicles and lithium-ion batteries.
In a study, the American Transportation Research Institute found the process of extracting the materials used in lithium-ion batteries for battery-electric vehicles creates a significant amount of emissions. Lithium-ion battery production generates more than six times the carbon of diesel truck production, ATRI officials said in a press release.
The total carbon dioxide emissions created through the production of a battery-electric vehicle is far higher than those produced during production of a fuel-cell-electric vehicle (24% of a battery-electric vehicle’s carbon dioxide emissions) or of an internal combustion engine vehicle (nearly 16% of a battery-electric vehicle’s carbon dioxide emissions).
Still, battery-electric vehicles emit 30% lower carbon dioxide emissions across the vehicle lifetime (from production to operation) compared to trucks running on internal combustion engines.
ICE vehicles are associated with almost double the operations-related carbon dioxide emissions when compared to battery-electric vehicles (which are about 57% of an ICE’s operations carbon dioxide) or fuel-cell-electric vehicles (which are about 53% of an ICE’s operations carbon dioxide).
ATRI’s research concluded that hydrogen fuel cell trucks are ultimately the most environmentally friendly truck type, although the technology is not presently feasible for long-haul operations.
The research analysis of the impact of zero-emission vehicles — which utilized outputs from the Argonne National Lab’s GREET Model and was a top priority of ATRI’s Research Advisory Committee —utilized federal and industry-sourced data to identify and compare full life-cycle carbon dioxide emissions for a range of truck types, including a baseline diesel truck, battery-electric trucks and hydrogen-fuel-cell trucks.
“ATRI’s research highlights that several of the leading zero-emission approaches being advocated today still need additional research to fully understand how the different technologies can be best developed and utilized to maximize carbon reduction,” said Hugh Ekberg, President and CEO of CRST.
The most realistic approach to decreasing carbon dioxide in ICE vehicles is through alternative fuels such as biodiesel, renewable diesel and natural gas, ATRI found.
For example, renewable diesel could decrease carbon dioxide emissions to nearly 33% of a standard diesel engine without requiring new infrastructure or truck equipment. And hydrogen sourced from solar-power electricity could enable hydrogen-fuel-cell trucks to emit nearly 9% of the baseline diesel carbon dioxide.