Electric vehicles and our climate change goals: Milovanoff

head shot of Alexandre Milovanoff

Alexandre Milovanoff

PhD student Alex Milovanoff presented “Electrification of Light-Duty Vehicle Fleet Alone will not Meet Mitigation Targets” on October 30, 2020.

Milovanoff began his presentation by saying that the best thing for climate change is biking or walking rather than electric vehicles.

To measure the fight against climate change, there is a carbon budget, which is the carbon limit countries need to stay under to keep global temperature increase under 2°C. The fight is not going well; currently, the world will exceed the budget in 2030 at a 75% probability or 2040 at a 50% probability.

Transportation is a major driver of emissions. When looking at Canada greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, more than half are from transportation and oil/gas which includes vehicles for industry processes. There is a need for GHG emission mitigation in transportation, for which electric vehicles (EV) are one answer.

Milovanoff describes the life cycle analysis (LCA) for determining how effective EVs can be for climate change mitigation. In the LCA, researchers can evaluate the emissions and waste from having an EV, from resource extraction, material production, vehicle manufacturing, operation, to end-of-life. There are challenges to electrification such as energy extensive batteries resulting in more emissions, increasing the need for materials and electricity from fossil fuels, and electrification infrastructure. In light of LCA, the term “zero emission vehicle” is misleading, but EVs are a net positive.

To understand the number of on-road electric vehicles needed to remain within the US light-duty fleet GHG emission budget, Milovanoff assessed current and prospective GHG emissions using the framework components like the Fleet Life cycle Assessment and Material-flow Estimation (FLAME). He discovered that there was a 65% GHG emission reduction per kilometre for EVs vs conventional cars, and that there would need to be a 90% usage rate of EVs under current policies by 2050. This enormous number of vehicles would need to be sold starting in 2030 to reach the target usage rate.

Reaching this wide-scale adoption of EV has massive implications. First, EV adoption barriers would have to be removed: driving range anxiety, higher cost of EV by either taxing conventional cars or giving tax benefits, and availability of charging infrastructure. There would also be strain on electricity infrastructure, causing a 40% additional electricity demand in 2050 in the US. Moreover, there would be strains on critical material supply chains for lithium, cobalt, manganese, nickel such that there are not enough resources. Despite this, Milovanoff states that the most influential parameter for EVs to meet the carbon budget is vehicle ownership and usage.

Milovanoff states that EVs solve only one part of the problem for combating climate change. Climate change measures fall into three categories: avoiding travel; shifting mode of transport or energy sources; and improvements like electrification.

He reemphasizes there is an urgency to act now on climate change. There is no single technological silver-bullet, so we need to rethink our transportation needs and systems to meet our climate change goals.

Alex Milovanoff is finishing his PhD under the co-supervision of UTTRI associated faculty Professors I. Daniel Posen and Heather MacLean and starting his postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Toronto in the Department of Civil and Mineral Engineering. He holds a MASc in Chemical Engineering from Polytechnique Montreal, Canada, and an Engineer Degree with a major in energy systems from Supelec, France. His research aims to support the development of sustainable energy systems. Alex uses systems-level approaches to address complex environmental questions, and has explored themes revolving around the environmental assessment of electricity, of primary metals, and of large-scale deployment of greenhouse gas emission mitigation strategies in passenger transport such as alternative vehicle designs, ethanol, or electric vehicles. His work has been featured in Scientific American, the Daily Mail in the U.K., the Globe and Mail in Canada and the Washington Post in the U.S. Alex is a also a science communicator and you could have seen him on TV at BNN Bloomberg, heard him on the radio at CBC, Global News radio or Newstalk 1010, and read him in The Conversation Canada.

Presented by University of Toronto ITE Student Chapter, UT-ITE.

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