Argonne Releases New Cradle-to-Grave Life Cycle Analysis of LDV Vehicle Fuel Pathways in the United States

Argonne National Laboratory has released a new Cradle-to-Grave (C2G) Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) of US LV fuel-to-vehicle pathways. The report was prepared by Argonne researchers and members of the US Drive Embedded Systems Analysis Technical Team. This analysis builds on a previous comprehensive life cycle analysis, updating the assumptions and methods of this 2016 study.

US Drive—the United States drives research and innovation for vehicle efficiency and energy sustainability—is a government-industry partnership between the US Department of Energy; USCAR, representing Stellantis, Ford Motor Company and General Motors; five energy companies (BP America, Chevron Corporation, Exxon Mobil Corporation, Phillips 66 Company and Shell); three utilities (Southern California Edison, Michigan-based DTE Energy, American Electric Power); and the Electric Power Research Institute.

The study provides a comprehensive analysis of the costs and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of a variety of vehicle-to-fuel pathways; the discounted cost of driving (LCD); and the cost of avoided GHG emissions. C2G analysis evaluates lightweight midsize sedans and small sport utility vehicles (SUVs) across a variety of vehicle-to-fuel technology pathways, including conventional internal combustion engine vehicles (ICEVs); flexible hybrid electric vehicles (HEV); plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV); Battery Electric Vehicles (BEV) with different ranges; and fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEV).

The 2022 report considers a wider range of vehicle technologies and considers both current (2020) and projected future (2030-2035) conditions. Reflecting increased research interest in synthetic liquid fuels produced from renewable electricity with low carbon and CO emissions2 sources, e-fuels have been added to the potential future fuel technologies being evaluated.

The fuel pathways selected were limited to those deemed scalable nationally in the future. Additional concerns, such as consumer choice, regional variability, and infrastructure availability for FCEV and BEV, were not directly considered. High production volume is assumed unless explicitly stated. Electricity mix used in stationary processes (unless otherwise noted) is from the US grid generation mix for 2035 projected by the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) in the Annual Energy Outlook (AEO) 2021.

Fuel production pathways considered

The GHG emissions assessment was performed by expanding and modifying Argonne’s GREET model suite (2020 version) with input from industry experts. This C2G GHG balance sheet includes both fuel and vehicle production life cycles. Cost assessments represent a final cost/price to the consumer, excluding taxes on the final product (eg fuel sales tax) and/or credits (eg vehicle subsidies).

Vehicle fuel savings and component sizes were estimated using Argonne National Laboratory’s vehicle simulation tool, Autonomy, using a consistent set of vehicle performance criteria for all combinations vehicle-fuel.

The main case presented in the body of the report is the high-tech powertrain progress path with central cost cases for each fuel. The ranges presented in the cost analyzes include the low technological progress vehicle associated with the high cost of fuel (when available, and the central case when it is not available), and the low range corresponds to the technological progress high with the lowest fuel cost (when available).

By far the biggest and most significant change in input assumptions between the 2016 study and this current update is in battery costs for BEVs. The past 5 to 10 years have seen dramatic reductions in the cost of EV batteries while, similarly, battery cost projections have also changed significantly over the past 5 years. It’s hard to overstate the importance of battery cost improvements in this analysis.

— “Cradle-to-Grave Life Cycle Analysis of Light-Duty Vehicle Fuel Pathways in the United States” (2022)

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C2G GHG emissions from various vehicle-fuel pathways for small SUVs assuming high technological advancements. The down arrows show a plausible reduction in the carbon footprint of the vehicle-to-fuel pathway from low-carbon fuels and electricityANL.


Modeled costs of avoided GHG emissions for the majority of future technology scenarios, given the full vehicle life of 15 years, are less than $200/tonne CO2e with many options below zero, i.e. they cost less than the ICEV and emit fewer emissions.

In addition, the BEV400 and FCEV pathways are significantly different from the current technology case. The cost of these technologies, while still a major component of the overall vehicle cost, is expected to improve significantly over the interim period, resulting in a much lower total vehicle cost.

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Lifetime cost versus GHG emissions per vehicle-fuel pathway for the Future Technology case for small SUVs ($2020). ANL


For the case of future technology, HEV, PHEV and BEV platforms offer the lowest modeled costs of avoided GHG emissions, with many options having a negative cost, i.e. the cost is lower to that of the gasoline-powered ICEV. FCEVs offer lower cost GHG emission opportunities than ICEV technologies, with the exception of the E85 vehicle running on corn stover and the CNG vehicle running on RNG.

The overall observation from the report is that significant GHG reductions for LCVs are achievable from low-carbon fuels, with improvements in vehicle efficiency also playing an important role. Low carbon fuels can have significantly higher costs than conventional fuels; however, vehicle cost is the major component (60-90%) and fuel cost the minor component (10-40%) of LCD.

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