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Climate Change and the Environment

Maximizing the Environmental Benefits of Electrified Vehicles

Pure battery electric vehicles (BEVs) are considered “zero emission” because they don’t release greenhouse gases or other pollutants during use. But that term can be confusing, because it takes electricity to charge the vehicle, and the power plant generating the electricity may also generate emissions. Electric vehicles do reduce pollutants generated by burning petroleum fuel in the vehicle, in proportion to the reduction in vehicle fuel consumption. However, replacing gasoline with electricity generated from coal, for example, results in emissions at the power plant, including carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, volatile organic compounds, carbon monoxide and particulate matter. As a result, the environmental benefits of BEVs and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) depend largely on the fuels used to power the electrical grid. Operating a PHEV or BEV on the current average U.S. electrical grid, which relies heavily on coal power, results in well-to-wheel emissions that are similar to those of a hybrid electric vehicle (HEV), but the emissions of BEVs, PHEVs, and HEVs are significantly better than vehicles powered by a traditional internal combustion engine. (See the well-to-wheels CO2 emissions values on the Comparing Electrification Technologies page.)

In some regions, however, where electrical power is derived largely from cleaner sources, the emissions benefits of PHEVs and BEVs can be much greater, because renewable energy sources produce significantly fewer emissions than coal and natural gas. We believe that, over time, the emissions benefits of PHEVs and BEVs will continue to improve as states undertake efforts to improve the emissions profiles of their electrical grids. Already, many states have portfolio standards that require the use of renewable sources of electricity. “Smart grids” that include grid-to-vehicle communications would enable utilities to make even more efficient use of electricity supplies, potentially reducing emissions and electricity costs. (See MyEnergi Lifestyle for an example of how connected technologies can improve the efficiency of vehicles, homes and electric power generation.)

There has been some discussion regarding whether the additional GHG burdens associated with manufacturing electric vehicles outweigh their benefits while in operation. The U.S. Department of Energy has conducted an investigation of the "cradle-to-grave" (C2G) emissions associated with electric vehicles1. The C2G analysis encompasses resource extraction (cradle), transformation of resources into fuels and vehicles, vehicle operation, and vehicle end-of-life disposal and recycling (grave). The U.S. Department of Energy assessment concluded that for today’s plug-in vehicles, the battery cycle contribution to C2G GHG emissions is 1-8 percent and does not negate the environmental benefits of electrified vehicles.

We know that Ford EVs are already helping to reduce CO2 emissions. As of late April 2014, Ford plug-in electric vehicles (the Focus Electric BEV and Fusion Energi and C‑MAX Energi PHEVs) had been driven for approximately 114 million electricity-powered miles. These “all-electric” miles have resulted in a reduction of approximately 8 million kg of CO22 compared to gasoline powered driving. Approximately every three days, Ford PHEV and BEV owners drive another million “all-electric” miles.

In 2014, we revealed a solar-powered C‑MAX Energi PHEV concept vehicle. The solar C‑MAX Energi concept charges its battery by collecting solar power instead of plugging into an electrical outlet. It uses a special concentrator that works like a magnifying glass to direct intense rays to solar panels on the vehicle’s roof. This rooftop solar system allows the C‑MAX Solar Energi Concept to charge its battery without using the traditional electric grid. However, the vehicle still has a charge port, and can be charged by connecting to a charging station via cord and plug so that drivers retain the option to power up using the traditional electrical grid, if desired. With a full charge, the Ford C‑MAX Solar Energi Concept is estimated to have the same total range as a conventional C‑MAX Energi of up to 550 miles, including up to 20 electric-only miles. Internal Ford data suggest the sun could power up to 75 percent of all trips made by an average driver in a solar hybrid vehicle. This could be especially important in places where the electric grid is underdeveloped, unreliable or expensive to use. The Ford C‑MAX Solar Energi Concept is estimated to reduce the annual greenhouse gas emissions a typical owner in the U.S. would produce by four metric tons by using renewable power, the amount an average U.S. household produces in four months. This vehicle won the “Best in Show” award at the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show.

To help customers think through the relative life cycle carbon emissions of different vehicle options, Ford has developed a carbon emissions calculator. Currently used by Ford’s National Account Managers with their fleet customers, this calculator helps customers assess the well-to-wheels emissions benefits and fuel costs of alternative fuel vehicles. For more information on this calculator, please see our Ford Fleet Purchase Planner case study.

Energy Security Benefits of Electrified Vehicles

The current energy demand for transportation is almost exclusively met by petroleum. Globally, approximately 94 percent of transportation energy demand is provided by petroleum. The near-complete dependence of a vital economic sector on what in many places is an import-dominated energy resource is clearly an issue of concern. One of the major benefits of increasing the proportion of electrified vehicles is that it will diversify the transportation energy demand and provide increased energy security. Hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) reduce petroleum demand by increasing efficiency. PHEVs reduce petroleum demand by increased efficiency and also by switching some of the energy demand from petroleum to other sources. PHEVs offer flexibility in fuel choice, while BEVs remove the need for petroleum entirely.

The U.S. currently imports approximately 40 percent of its petroleum consumption, though this figure is declining as U.S. oil and gas production increases. The increased electrification of the U.S. vehicle fleet will decrease petroleum demand and accelerate the transition to a more energy-secure future.

Maximizing Vehicle Efficiency

Electric vehicles are inherently more efficient than gasoline vehicles. In addition, electric vehicles do not consume energy while at rest or coasting, and approximately 95 percent of the braking energy is recaptured at each stop.

Ford has made it a priority to further maximize the efficiency of our electric vehicles. We optimized every system in the vehicle to ensure it would be as efficient as possible. In addition to using the latest technology for the battery and the rest of the electric-drive components, we have maximized efficiency through improved aerodynamics and low rolling resistance. And, we used our knowledge from two generations of hybrid electric vehicles to enhance the Focus Electric’s range and efficiency through regenerative braking.

Maximizing Driving Efficiency

Our in-vehicle information systems also help drivers to increase the distance they can go on a single charge and reduce the overall costs of operating an EV by helping them drive as efficiently as possible. Our electric vehicles can coach drivers on how to maximize efficiency by focusing on the “ABCs” of efficient driving: acceleration, braking and cruising. These tools also help drivers to maximize their driving range. See Living the Electric Lifestyle for more information. We are also working on future vehicle technologies that will help reduce emissions related to idling in congestion and driving unnecessarily to find parking. Up to 20 percent of a vehicle’s lifetime emissions may come from driving around looking for a parking space. For more information on our work to develop new mobility solutions please see the Mobility section.

Maximizing Charging Efficiency

As described previously, we are encouraging drivers to switch to Level 2 chargers to increase charging efficiency and driver satisfaction with their plug-in vehicles. However, many of the most important strategies for maximizing the efficiency and environmental benefits of electric vehicle charging require changes to the electrical grid and the fuels used to power it. While these issues are mostly beyond Ford’s control, we are working with utilities and municipalities to make the most of electric vehicles’ advantages, as discussed below. (See also the Improving the Electric Vehicle Ecosystem section.)

Using Renewable Energy: As the power-generation sector continues to improve its fuel mix, the environmental impact of driving a plug-in vehicle will diminish substantially – perhaps even toward zero. But adding more renewable fuel sources to electrical grids will take time. As this evolution takes place, smart vehicle-to-grid communication systems can help utilities better use the renewable energy sources that are accessible. For example, such systems can allow vehicles to charge when wind power is most available (usually at night) or during the day from solar arrays, depending on the renewable source available and its output.

In addition, home-based solar power is becoming more affordable. Solar power in general has dropped from approximately $6 per watt of capacity in 2011 to $2 to $3 per watt in early 2013. In states with home solar power incentives, customers may be able to lease solar energy systems at a price that is lower than their current monthly electric bill, with no upfront cash.

Ford is working with utility partners to develop home-based solar recharging stations that will allow EV owners to obtain the power they need to charge their vehicles from renewable sources, even if the overall electricity grid has not changed. Our research shows that nearly 40 percent of EV customers either have solar power or plan to purchase it within a year. We have partnered with SunPower Corp. to offer customers the Drive Green for Life program, which includes a home rooftop solar system that can provide enough clean, renewable energy to offset the electricity used to charge the car. The 2.5 kW rooftop solar system is backed by a 25-year limited warranty and produces an average of 3,000 kilowatt hours of electricity annually. The high-efficiency panels generate approximately 50 percent more electricity than conventional panels and utilize a smaller footprint on the roof. The system is sized to provide the electricity needed to drive about 1,000 miles per month or 12,000 miles per year. We are working with SunPower to ensure that the unit is competitively priced. We are also providing additional incentives to customers who work with Ford dealers to start the process of getting this solar power system.

“Smart Grids and Smart Charging”: The development of smart grid technologies, which can provide utilities and customers with real-time information on energy use and energy prices, is a key enabler of the efficient integration of electric vehicles and grids, and an important strategy for maximizing EV efficiency and environmental benefits. Smart grids will help make the electrical grid and electrical vehicle charging more efficient by channeling vehicle charging to times when electrical grid resources are currently underutilized. Since demand for electricity fluctuates (generally peaking in the afternoon and dropping off at night), utilities typically use a mix of fuels and power plant types to meet demand. That means the environmental impacts of electric vehicle use will vary depending on where and when the vehicles are charged. During certain seasons and particularly at night, utilities generally have excess generation capacity – unused resources that create financial inefficiency. Charging PHEVs and BEVs during these off-peak hours, when this excess capacity is available, can increase the overall efficiency of the electric grid – potentially reducing CO2 emissions, as well as the cost of electricity for all utility users. If PHEVs and BEVs are charged at peak times, that could create increased CO2 emissions from power generation and also create demand for additional power plants. Utilities have a role to play in educating electrified-vehicle users and providing them with incentives to charge their vehicles at the most beneficial times.

Smart meters are a key element of smart grids. Smart meters allow two-way communication between homes and their electric utility, and also between “smart” equipment in customers’ homes (such as plug-in vehicles) and the utility. Smart meters facilitate “smart vehicle charging” during lower-cost, off-peak times.

Value Charging: Value Charging, a feature available on Ford’s electrified vehicles in the U.S., also helps to maximize the efficiency of charging and the environmental benefits of EVs. This system contains information on local utility rates and off-peak times to charge, which helps to prevent the need for infrastructure upgrades to support added energy demand and reduce the production of additional CO2. Ford will to continue to work with utility partners and municipalities to help further develop systems to maximize the effectiveness of electric vehicles and their interaction with the electricity grid.

A Holistic Environmental Approach

Reducing emissions and maximizing vehicle efficiency are just some of the elements of our strategy to maximize the environmental benefits of EVs. We are also using green power and green technologies to manufacture our EVs, as well as green materials in our electrified vehicles and charging stations.

The Michigan Assembly Plant, for example, which produces the Focus Electric, C‑MAX Energi and C‑MAX Hybrid, in addition to the standard gas-powered Ford Focus, is powered by one of the largest solar arrays in the state of Michigan. We partnered with DTE Energy to install this solar panel system at the plant. We are also working with DTE Energy to develop a stationary battery energy storage system that will store excess power produced by the solar array until it is needed in the plant. This battery storage system uses electric vehicle batteries that have reached the end of their useful lives in vehicles. This approach provides a second life for vehicle batteries, which reduces waste and maximizes the efficiency of solar power. The Michigan Assembly Plant also uses power generated from the methane released from decaying trash at a nearby landfill, which reduces emissions of this potent greenhouse gas. And the plant uses battery-electric-powered tugs, converted from diesel power, to move vehicles and parts around the plant. The tugs are powered directly from the solar array, and when not in use the remaining energy stored in the tug batteries is discharged into the 750 kW battery bank.

Michigan Assembly Plant

The Michigan Assembly Plant – which produces the Focus Electric, C‑MAX Energi, C‑MAX Hybrid and gas-powered Ford Focus – is powered by one of the largest solar arrays in the state of Michigan.

Ford is also using green materials in our HEVs, BEVs and PHEVs, as well as many of our other vehicles. For example, our existing HEVs use recycled-content seat fabrics. Since 2011, all of our U.S. vehicles, including our electrified vehicles, have used soy foam. For more information about our use of green materials in vehicles, please see the Sustainable Materials section.

  1. Joseck, F., and Ward, J., Cradle to grave lifecycle assessment of vehicle and fuel pathways, DOE Program Record 14006, (2014). See http://www.hydrogen.energy.gov/pdfs/14006_cradle_to_grave_analysis.pdf.
  2. This CO2 reduction value is a “net” well to wheels value based on the reduction in CO2 emissions resulting from the greater efficiency of the electric versus the gasoline engine. But it also accounts for the fact that the grid electricity that is being used to recharge the vehicles also produces upstream CO2 emissions. All-electric miles driven are calculated from data collected through the MyFord Mobile database.