Automotive Industry and Climate Change
Key greenhouse gases include carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrous oxide, methane, CFC compounds (chlorofluorocarbons), ozone and nitrogen oxides. In addition, water vapour is also a potent greenhouse gas. However, it is not usually compared with other greenhouse gases, because its volume is not directly affected by human activities. CO2 is the most significant greenhouse gas. It is also a key greenhouse gas emitted by road transport. The most common road transport fuels, petrol and diesel fuel, contain fossil carbon, which in the internal combustion engine is oxidized into CO2. Since renewable energy, such as the biological components of fuel, do not contain fossil carbon, they have no permanent significance as a source of greenhouse gases. Nevertheless, when discussing any fuel, including renewable energy, it is important to assess the production process of the fuel in addition to its use. The energy use related to the production process may cause greenhouse gas emissions – also in the case of renewable energy.
The European Union has adopted a target of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 20% from 1990 levels by 2020, and to increase the share of renewable energy to about 20% of all energy consumption. The reduction target set for Finland in emissions not covered by the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme (including transport) is 16% from 2005 levels by 2020. The target set for Finland in the share of renewable energy in total energy consumption is 38% by 2020.
Share of Road Transport in Greenhouse Gas Emissions
In 2010, Finland’s greenhouse gas emissions totalled 74.6 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent. Domestic transport accounted for 13.57 million tonnes, or 18.2% of all emissions. CO2 emissions from both domestic and international transport in Finland totalled 15.62 million tonnes, or 20.9% of all emissions. Road transport represented 75.1% of all CO2 emissions from transport, or 15.7% of all CO2 emissions. Passenger cars represented 7.22 million tonnes, or 9.7% of all CO2 emissions.
More than 90% of Emissions from Use
Road transport causes greenhouse gas emissions in different phases of the lifecycle. The manufacturing of automobiles causes emissions, as do their use, maintenance and recycling. Comparing these phases is not simple, because, for example, mileage and fuel economy vary on a case by case basis. However, a general rule of thumb is that more than 90% of all CO2 emissions caused by an automobile during its entire lifecycle result from use. Manufacturing, recycling and maintenance play insignificant roles in total emissions.
This means that replacing a vehicle with low fuel economy with a more fuel-efficient one is beneficial from the perspective of CO2 emissions, even if you take into consideration the emissions caused by the manufacturing of the vehicle. The energy required by the manufacture of automobiles, as well as the resulting CO2 emissions, are decreasing as manufacturing technologies develop and the use of recycled materials increases.
Use-Related Emissions Directly Proportional with Fuel Economy
CO2 emissions caused by the use of an automobile are directly proportional with the amount of fuel consumed. The use of one litre of petrol produced from crude oil creates 2.35 kg of CO2, and the corresponding figure for a litre of diesel fuel is 2.66 kg. Today, fuel economy is often reported as CO2 emissions (g/km) instead of the previously used fuel consumption (l/100 km). This enables comparisons between petrol and diesel fuel. In addition, the car tax and the basic tax component of the vehicle tax are based on CO2 emissions in Finland.
Fuels that contain renewable energy components, such as bioethanol, can have lower CO2 emissions per litre than those presented the table above.
The annual or lifecycle CO2 emissions of an automobile can be calculated based on fuel economy (l/100 km) multiplied by the distance driven (km/100). For example, if a vehicle with a fuel economy of 6.0 l/100 km is driven a total of 250,000 km during its lifecycle, the total amount of petrol used is 15,000 l, which results in CO2 emissions of 15,000 x 2.33 kg = 34.95 tonnes. The CO2 emissions of a vehicle can be cut by reducing its mileage or fuel economy.
Since the beginning of 2008, when the car tax levied on passenger cars became based on CO2 emissions, the average CO2 emissions of automobiles registered for the first time have decreased significantly. There are several reasons for this trend, such as: buyers have chosen models with a better fuel economy from the selection available, and the range of models has become more energy-efficient overall.
Automotive Aftermarket Has Little Direct Impact on Climate Change
The most significant impact of the automotive aftermarket on the climate results from the construction, maintenance and use of facilities. Due to the nature of the business, the facilities are high and many of their functions energy-intense.
The share of the automotive aftermarket in the overall climate impact of the automotive industry is relatively insignificant, but its operations can influence the emissions of the industry significantly. Regular maintenance and repair of automobiles often directly affect fuel economy.
The greenhouse gas emissions of the automotive aftermarket mainly consist of the following three sources:
- Manufacture and transport of spare parts
- Ventilation, lighting and heating of facilities
- Service, repair and painting operations
The annual energy consumption of automotive industry facilities totals about 1.4 TWh. The CO2 emissions of the facilities could be cut significantly by improving their energy efficiency. The Finnish Central Organization for Motor Trades and Repairs has joined the Energy Efficiency Agreement scheme by implementing its own energy-efficiency programme. The programme is a facilities energy management tool tailored for the automotive industry.
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