Using coal for transportation in China: Life cycle GHG of coal-based fuel and electric vehicle, and policy implications

This paper compares the GHG emissions of coal-to-liquid (CTL) fuels to the GHG emissions of electric vehicles (EVs) powered with coal-to-electricity in China. A life cycle model is used to account for full fuel cycle and use-phase emissions, as well as vehicle cycle and battery manufacturing emissions. It is found that the reduction of life cycle GHG emissions of EVs charged by electricity generated from coal, without utilizing carbon dioxide capture and storage (CCS) technology can be 3–36% when compared to petroleum-based gasoline car. The large range in emissions reduction potential is driven by the many different power generation technologies that are and could in the future be used to generate electricity in China. When CCS is employed in power plants, the GHG emission reductions increase to 60–70% compared to petroleum-based gasoline car. However, the use of coal to produce liquid transportation fuels (CTL fuels) will likely lead to significantly increased life cycle GHG emissions, potentially 30–140% higher than petroleum-based gasoline. When CCS is utilized in the CTL plant, the CTL fueled vehicles emit roughly equal GHG emissions to petroleum-based gasoline vehicles from the life cycle perspective. The authors conclude that policies are therefore needed in China in order to accelerate battery technology and infrastructural improvements for EV charging, increased energy efficiency management, and deployment of low-carbon technologies such as CCS.