What is Life Cycle Assessment or LCA?

To understand the true ecological impact and sustainability of a car, it must be viewed in the context of its whole life cycle. This means that all processes and flows of resources and energy associated with the car’s production, usage, and recycling at the end of its life must be considered. Life Cycle Assessment, or LCA, is the method that estimates these individual contributions to predict the car’s environmental impact over its entire lifetime “from cradle to grave”.

It is important to understand that – unlike the Green NCAP star ratings – LCA does not solely include attributes of the car itself: for instance, the LCA assessment of an electric car can be different from country to country, depending on whether more, or less renewable energy is used for recharging. 

This also means that LCA cannot be as precise as emissions testing.  The outcome must always be considered as an estimate, based on generally available data and assumptions. Nevertheless, there is international consensus that the environmental effects of different cars can only be truly compared on the basis of a Life Cycle Assessment, including the production, operation and the end-of-life treatment of the various facilities. 

There is international consensus that the environmental effects of transportation systems can only be truly analysed and compared on the basis of Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) including the production, operation and the end-of-life treatment of the various facilities.

source: JOANNEUM RESEARCH

Greenhouse Gases and Primary Energy Demand

Green NCAP’s Life Cycle Assessment focuses on two key measures: greenhouse gas emissions and primary energy demand. Greenhouse gases contribute to the greenhouse effect so the sum of the gas emissions, produced in the different phases of a vehicle’s lifecycle, is an important indicator of the vehicle’s impact on global warming. The greenhouse gases investigated are carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O), expressed as emitted CO2 equivalent.

The primary energy demand is equally important because energy is scarce and valuable and should be utilised efficiently. The required primary energy, which must be extracted from one or multiple non-renewable (fossil) or renewable sources (e.g. wind, solar or hydropower), is expressed in kWh or MWh.

The analysis considers the greenhouse gases emitted during the production of the vehicle and its components, including tyres and batteries. In broad terms, this part of the analysis is based on the vehicle’s size, weight and the type of powertrain. The results presented make use of publicly available data about global generic supply chains and don’t account for the production or recycling processes of specific vehicle manufacturer brands.

Different cars produce different amounts of greenhouse gases while they are being driven. A unique feature of Green NCAP’s approach is the combination of actual vehicle testing with the life cycle assessment. The average, best and worst measured fuel and energy consumptions from Green NCAP’s tests serve as realistic input data for the LCA calculations, making the effect of driving style and ambient conditions on the LCA results evident.

LCA Information

LCA information can be complex and hard to understand. To provide more insight and more usable advice to consumers, Green NCAP presents LCA results in two ways:

European LCA Results

The LCA analysis assumes a vehicle lifetime of 16 years and a driven mileage of 240,000 km and the calculations are based on current forecast about changing average energy mix of the 27 European Union member states and the United Kingdom. This table overview provides you with the best overall comparison between those cars on the European market that have been tested under Green NCAP conditions. Using the same high-level, publicly available data for all vehicles does not allow the implementation of an LCA vehicle ranking system but helps to clearly identify the main factors for different lifecycle outcomes. Besides car specifications, the LCA fact sheet includes a simplified schematic of the process chain and a graphical representation of the LCA outcome.

LCA Interactive Platform Coming Soon

LCA parameters can be customized to local and personal circumstances, such as driven mileage, renewable energy mix and country. This option allows you to compare up to four cars and two countries, specific to your needs and conditions. The interactive platform draws data from a large database that, amongst others, contains vehicles tested by Green NCAP and by the Ecotest programme.

Limitations

Green NCAP’s LCA involves estimations based on the available data and state-of-the art scientific methodology, developed by JOANNEUM RESEARCH and peer-reviewed by the Paul Scherrer Institute.  With regard to the impact on global warming and total primary energy demand, the most relevant environmental aspects are accounted for.  However, other environmental effects like emissions of NOx, SO2, particulate matter and their consequential impacts like acidification, ozone formation, and toxicity to humans are not considered.  The life cycle impact of a transport system on water demand, pollution of water, soil or air are also not included in the assessment yet.

The analysis is based on publicly available scientifically accepted information about vehicle production or recycling processes and does not consider specific data of single vehicle manufacturers or models. Some manufacturers may calculate results differently from the values estimated here using in-house data. Green NCAP encourages the disclosure of brand and model-specific, certified LCA results as they give even more precise insights into the lifecycle environmental performance of particular vehicles and provide evidence about the manufacturer’s effort to contribute to the sustainability goals. 

The final LCA values are given as ranges.  Given the approximations involved and the limitations of the high-level data LCA approach, it is currently not possible to use the results to rate vehicles according to their life cycle impact.  Therefore, Green NCAP makes its life cycle assessment details available for information purposes only, without ranking of better or worse cars.