Well-To-Wheel Emissions

Paul Leinert has a fun story in Reuters about an automotive sustainability model developed by Argonne National Labs. The model is called GREET (“The Greenhouse gases, Regulated Emissions, and Energy use in Technologies Model”) and it seeks to capture the environmental total cost of ownership of a vehicle – including production and operation, even taking into account the fuel sources that generate the electricity that goes into electric vehicles.

The model is…not easy to use. I registered with the Argonne website to download it, only to discover that the main model is a .NET program. There is are some Excel-based versions of the model, which I loaded up in Google Sheets. I couldn’t get it to work – there are 18 tabs in the workbook, with lots of cells to complete. All I want to know is whether I should feel virtuous about or ashamed of my 2004 Toyota Highlander.

The Leinert article in Reuters offers some insight. Leinert calculates that a new Tesla Model 3 is more environmentally damaging to produce than a gas-powered vehicle, but the Model 3 is conversely much more environmentally-friendly to operate. More precisely, the Model 3 only becomes more environmentally-friendly than a comparable gas-powered vehicle after 13,500 miles of operation.

“It was up against a gasoline-fueled Toyota Corolla weighing 2,955 pounds with a fuel efficiency of 33 miles per gallon. It was assumed both vehicles would travel 173,151 miles during their lifetimes.

But if the same Tesla was being driven in Norway, which generates almost all its electricity from renewable hydropower, the break-even point would come after just 8,400 miles.

If the electricity to recharge the EV comes entirely from coal, which generates the majority of the power in countries such as China and Poland, you would have to drive 78,700 miles to reach carbon parity with the Corolla, according to the Reuters analysis of data generated by Argonne’s model.”

I’ve heard different off-the-cuff estimates of these numbers before, and I’m happy to see that Argonne put in the labor to make an accurate estimate.

I do wish their model were easier to use.

But Argonne does have a nice webpage that tells you how environmentally-friendly it is to drive electric vehicles in different states, based on the power sources for electricity generation.

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