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Project Description

Electric vehicles have been in existence since the creation of the automobile in the 1800s, but fossil fuel powered vehicles have always been the dominant powertrain technology for mass-produced automobiles. Pollution, climate change, resource availability, and geopolitical concerns have led to a renewed interest in alternative engine technologies and electric vehicles are at the forefront of this debate because there are no direct emissions from the vehicle during its operation. However, an electric vehicle does not operate in a vacuum. Rather, it is part of a complex system that includes the production of the vehicles and the generation of power to charge the batteries in the vehicle. The proposed project is an economic and environmental sustainability assessment of electric vehicle systems. There are three main questions:

  • What are the conditions under which the electric vehicle system produces a net environmental benefit relative to existing vehicle systems?

  • What are the conditions under which the electric vehicle system is economically competitive with existing vehicle systems?

  • What is the uncertainty associated with these conditions and how can knowledge of that uncertainty be leveraged in strategic decisions around the development of electric vehicle systems?

These questions will be explored using a research plan that is organized into the three elements: 

  1. Economic and environmental analysis of electric vehicles. Research in this task will be conducted using a dynamic life cycle perspective of a fleet of electric vehicles implemented over time compared against a baseline of an existing fleet dominated by combustion engine vehicles. Four life cycle phases will be considered: materials production, vehicle production, use, and end-of-life. The task consists of four main activities: scenario definition, model development, data collection, and scenario analysis.
  2. Economic and environmental analysis of power generation. The main purpose of this task is to develop and implement an integrated environmental and economical assessment of power generation in Portugal first and then other contexts as well, addressing dynamics, variability and uncertainty. The overall objective is to perform a holistic evaluation of the LC aspects (direct and indirect) associated with the increased power generating capacity required to power EVs.
  3. Synthesis and decision analysis. This task will build on the analyses developed in Tasks 1 and 2 in order to provide an overall evaluation for each potential scenario by developing a multi-criteria decision analysis (MCDA) framework taking into account uncertainty and the viewpoints of multiple stakeholders (automotive manufacturers, infrastructure developers, power generators, policymakers, and consumers).

The research team will define scenarios to analyze based on vehicle characteristics (vehicle type, powertrain), contextual characteristics (usage profiles, utility grid mix), and technology transition characteristics (technology learning rates, fleet implementation rates).

The primary outcome from this work will be strategies for developing economically and environmentally sustainable electric vehicle systems. The audience for these strategies will include all stakeholders within the system: automotive manufacturers and suppliers, infrastructure developers, power generators, and policymakers. The strategies will include recommendations on vehicle technology and manufacturing as a function of context. Furthermore, there will be methodological contributions in the diverse areas of life cycle assessment, economic technological forecasting, and decision analysis, and in mechanisms for integrating these topics.