Calculating a truck’s true climate impact

Lars Mårtensson
3 min
Lars Mårtensson
Environment and Innovation Director at Volvo Trucks

Choosing the most sustainable vehicle for your application is not always straight-forward, however it can be a lot simpler with a life cycle assessment. This is because it creates a holistic picture that considers the environmental impact across the vehicle’s lifetime.

A vehicle’s environmental footprint is not limited to the fuel it consumes – it encompasses a range of other factors, from the extraction of the raw materials used in its production right through to its final decommissioning. Only after doing a life cycle assessment (LCA) can you see a vehicle’s full climate impact.

Putting emissions into context

A good example that illustrates the value of a life cycle assessment is the recent concerns about the environmental impact of lithium-ion batteries. The production process for the battery cells is very energy intensive, and as a result, the climate impact from producing an electric vehicle is significantly higher than its diesel equivalent. 

However, in the context of a full life cycle assessment, the difference between the two is negligible. Especially for the diesel vehicle which will emit far more CO2 emissions when it enters operation. If the electric truck runs on electricity generated from a renewable source, then its climate impact will be less than the diesel truck after just one year.

Adapting to a changing world

Many of the variables that go into a life cycle assessment are continuously changing. There are incentives to make battery cell production less carbon intensive, as well as various initiatives to give old batteries second lives. These all have the potential to affect an electric truck’s overall environmental impact.

The energy source is a significant factor in a vehicle’s life cycle assessment. For example, an electric truck’s climate impact differs greatly if it's run on electricity generated from coal as opposed to a renewable fuel such as hydro, solar or wind power.

The life cycle assessment of an electric truck, powered by electricity from a renewable source, will show a very low climate impact.

For this reason, the transformation of the transport sector is very much part of the energy transformation. As renewable fuels become available to a much larger degree, more and more people will be able to maximise the climate benefits of electric trucks. And in the future, hydrogen trucks too.

To help create clarity and guidance on the issue, Volvo Trucks’ environmental footprint calculator is available online. Initially, we have used this tool and knowledge to help us to set targets and strategies for the development of new trucks. That is still the case but now we also want to share it to help guide customers through the different alternatives and technologies available to them, so they can find the best solution to suit them.

Ultimately, a life cycle assessment is a continuous process and one of the most important factors is the customer’s unique circumstances and needs. If biogas is readily available to you then a gas-powered truck could be an excellent solution, but if you have access to charging facilities in a country with renewable electricity, then a battery electric truck could be best. With our calculator, you can really compare and see the improvements and the steps that you can take over time as well.

Want to know more?

Try Volvo Trucks’ environmental footprint calculator or read 7 common myths about electric truck batteries.