Swedish truck maker Scania has published a  life cycle assessment (LCA) of distribution vehicles, which concludes that the environmental impact of battery electric vehicles is significantly lower than that of a vehicle with an internal combustion engine. 

Scania’s statement says that its Life Cycle Assessment is an ISO 14040/44 method used to calculate the environmental impacts of products, covering the entire life cycle from cradle to grave, starting at the extracting and refining of raw materials and ending at the recovery of, in this case, the vehicles.

“As the heavy commercial vehicle industry converts into a higher share of battery electric vehicles, we have to ask ourselves, are the battery electric vehicles truly good for the environment when we look over the full life cycle? The impact generated is not from the tailpipe emissions, so the industry needs to rethink what we mean by environmental impact. With this study, we have the clear answers” says Andreas Follér, head of sustainability at Scania.

The production of the battery electric vehicle entails a higher environmental impact, mainly due to energy intensive battery cell manufacturing. Despite the increased production burden, the total life cycle impact on climate change is dramatically better for the battery electric vehicles, thanks to the much lower carbon impact from the use phase.

For trucks operating in EU, we reduce life cycle carbon emissions by 38% (EU mix 2016) to 63 per cent (prognosed EU mix 2030). If we switch to green electricity, we reach a carbon emission reduction over the life cycle of 86 per cent. The battery electric vehicle has the potential to have less climate impact than the one with an internal combustion engine already within one or two years of operation. This covers all investigated electricity mixes in the report.

The battery cells stands for a bit over 40 per cent of the carbon emissions coming from production of battery electric vehicles. There is however a big potential for improved emission levels from the production of battery electric vehicles as the battery industry continuously decarbonises and the use of green electricity continuously increases.

“We expect that the total cost of operation for the majority of our customers will be positive for battery electric vehicles during this decade and half our volumes might well have an electric driveline by 2030. The race towards zero emissions will be about decarbonising the processes and materials needed to assemble the future truck and buses,” says Follér.

Scania says  that partnerships are key to delivering on the carbon reductions needed to achieve the Science Based Targets Scania has committed to.  It cites the partnership with Northvolt which aims to produce the world’s greenest battery.

The company says that steel is another big part of the sourcing carbon footprint of trucks, due to the heavy fossil dependency in the production phase. The partnership with H2 Green Steel ( a company headed up by former Scania boss Henrik Henriksson) aims at solving that and sets Scania on a trajectory for a Zero Emission Truck, which the company aims to deliver on in 2030.