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Fuel Economy and Greenhouse Gas Emissions Labeling for Plug-In Hybrid Vehicles from a Life Cycle Perspective

CSS Publication Number
Full Publication Date
October 3, 2012

Fuel economy has been an effective indicator of vehicle greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions for conventional gasoline-powered vehicles due to the strong relationship between fuel economy and vehicle life cycle emissions. However, fuel economy is not as accurate an indicator of vehicle GHG emissions for plug-in hybrid (PHEVs) and pure battery electric vehicles (EVs). Current vehicle labeling efforts by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Department of Transportation have been focused on providing energy and environmental information to consumers based on U.S. national average data. This article explores the effects of variations in regional grids and regional daily vehicle miles traveled (VMT) on the total vehicle life cycle energy and GHG emissions of electrified vehicles and compare these results with information reported on the label and on the EPA's fuel economy Web site. The model results suggest that only 25% of the life cycle emissions from a representative PHEV are reflected on current vehicle labeling. The results show great variation in total vehicle life cycle emissions due to regional grid differences, including an approximately 100 gram per mile life cycle GHG emissions difference between the lowest and highest electric grid regions and up to a 100% difference between the state-specific emission values within the same electric grid regions. Unexpectedly, for two regional grids the life cycle GHG emissions were higher in electric mode than in gasoline mode. We recommend that labels include stronger language on their deficiencies and provide ranges for GHG emissions from vehicle charging in regional electricity grids to better inform consumers.

Research Areas
Mobility Systems
energy consumption, industrial ecology, life cycle assessment (LCA), regional electric grids, utility factor, vehicle and fuel cycles
Publication Type
Journal Article
Digital Object Identifier
doi: 10.1111/j.1530-9290.2012.00526.x
Full Citation
MacPherson, Nathan D., Gregory A. Keoleian and Jarod C. Kelly. (2012) “Fuel Economy and Greenhouse Gas Emissions Labeling for Plug-In Hybrid Vehicles from a Life Cycle Perspective.” Journal of Industrial Ecology. 16(5): 761-773.