PHEV vs BEV vs ICE vs Hybrid CO2 Emissions

- Feb 14, 2024, 9:52 AM

PHEV vs BEV vs ICE vs Hybrid CO2 Emissions

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Air pollution is one of the US’ and global leading causes of death on an ongoing and increasingly fatal basis year to year. Estimates for air pollution related deaths worldwide range from 6.5 to 9 million. It affects our hearts, lungs, kidneys, blood, and more, and imparts fatal consequences.

Do ICE cars alone cause all of this air pollution? Of course not. But what improvements might the alternative choices to the significant ICE CO2 tailpipe emissions have on reducing poisons in the air we breathe?

Using data I found that the Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs) sold in the U.S. between 2012 and 2023 emitted on the average just 115 grams of CO2 per mile driven vs. 427 grams. That is 26.9% or basically 1/4th of the CO2 emissions of the average ICE autos measured. In other words, there is on average a 4 to 1 reduction in CO2 emissions between PHEV and ICE vehicles on the road today. 15,000 miles/year on a PHEV then coughs out less than 2 tons of CO2 each year instead of 7 tons. That serious improvement makes me breathe a bit easier.

A battery-electric EV (BEV) emits 0 grams of CO2 from its non-existent tailpipe. Driving this 100% electric car 150,000 miles in a single year, or two, or ten years does not add to the air pollution that we all admit exists planetwide. The average Hybrid (not plug-in) vehicle data from 2011 through 2023 shows 203 grams per mile or 3.36 tons of tailpipe CO2 per year. This is roughly half the CO2 emissions of an ICE vehicle.

So, the round numbers are easy for me to remember: Hybrids are about half the CO2 pollution of ICE. PHEVs are about half the CO2 pollution of Hybrids. BEVs are an absolute zero on the CO2 meter while driving, for the lifetime of the car.

Air pollution takes more lives each year than war, terrorism, many diseases, as well as drugs and alcohol. We are beginning to reverse that by using more renewable energy sources for the grid in favor of and at much lower cost than coal, petroleum, and natural gas. We are also beginning to reverse air pollution and drive for a lower $/mile cost by choosing PHEVs, Hybrids, and BEVs over ICE vehicles.

After 20 years and over 230,000 miles (nearly to the moon) on my 2002 RAV4, I was still getting better mileage (26 mpg) on my trusted road warrior than the EPA’s calculated average of 22.2 mpg on brand new cars sold over those same years. Even with my lower annual mileage driving in Hawaii since 2008, I still was emitting 2.5 tons of CO2 every year that I continued to maintain the RAV4. That bothered me a lot.

So instead of waiting longer for the very best evolving battery tech, EV price war discounts, better tax credits, and promo deals to arrive, or a 1.5 Centigrade number of the future, I leased a 2023 Hyundai Kona EV SE for 36 months with a $7500 cash bonus discount and a plan to buy it out at term. After 40 full years in tech and data since the beginning of the microcomputer revolution in Silicon Valley, many of the EV and PHEV autos available today are among the most impressive engineered products I have ever seen. They are improving our vitality of life in direct and quantifiable ways.

I do breathe easier at night.

Are PHEVs then an admission of guilt by large U.S. automakers like Ford and GM which first bet heavy on BEV production before the market (i.e., public understanding, pricing, and adoption) was ready and are now retooling their market expectations and approaches towards PHEV in a very new global industry? Hardly. PHEVs are a fantastic crossover technology and are easily rechargeable overnight from any home 110/120V, 15/20 amp outlet. They can, as shown above, efficiently reduce CO2 emissions by 4:1 over ICE cars and can achieve well over 1000 miles per full tank of gas (depending on recharge and driving habits) for those worried about battery range.

I’ll take a 4:1 reduction (PHEV) on pollution at a much lower $/mile cost to drive any day. This is true even in Hawaii where the AC at home costs 3X to 4X more than the average residential power on the mainland.

Battery-electric is not going away and is an ongoing choice for zero emissions driving. Efficiency improvements on EVs and related products has barely begun and is tracking exponentially over the last 10 years along with inverted costs. Intuitive understanding and better application of the kWh (what I call the new global currency) is where we are headed.

The reach for success in the US with clean energy on the grid and on the roads is not without precedent elsewhere. Norway’s 2023 EV sales reached an astounding 82% of all cars sold. Finland had incidents in 2023 of negative costs on grid electricity prices due to surplus clean energy. Germany just reached a benchmark 55% renewable energy grid benchmark in its goal of 80% green energy by 2030.

Clean energy is on the move.

By Dave Elias, software engineer and 25-year veteran of Silicon Valley’s big data scene.

About David Elias: With a computer science bachelor’s degree I joined a tiny startup as a commercial software engineer and tech editor in 1982 working on early Apple micros. (Statistical Analysis SAS/SPSS emulation using an 8-bit 6502 processor and 48K RAM.) Began a 25 yr. stint in Silicon Valley in 1984 developing telecom software products and then online services focused on managing, billing, and optimizing both telecom and data networks. Designed (architecture, data, code, UI) and wrote tons of software, product specs (hardware & software), user guides, tech/sales/training docs, you name it. Principle in a small team that designed one of the very first integrated/convergent voice & data network small business PBX’s in the late 90’s. POTs (voice), Ethernet (data), T1, FX, voice mail, auto attendant w/ speech recognition. Well before its time. Specialized in data analysis with optimization, early Big Data, relational db design, developing top notch reporting methods for different vertical industries. Moved to Hawaii in 2008, have continued R&D and computer tech work to this day addressing other industries and domains.

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