Life-Cycle Value Assessment (LCVA) of Fuel Supply Options for Fuel Cell Vehicles in Canada

Posted by Cansu Akar
Full LCA available on the web
Publication year: 
Different technically advanced options for operating fuel cell vehicles
Quality and sources
Is the study a: 
Detailed LCA
Was a critical review performed?: 
Is the study compliant with ISO 14044?: 
Sponsor name(s): 
Sponsor name(s): 
BC Hydro
Sponsor name(s): 
Suncor Energy
Sponsor type: 
Pembia Institute
Practitioner(s) type: 
Institut/Technical research center
Functional unit: 
1000 km of on-road travel with light-duty vehicles and buses
Goal and scope of the summary: 
The principal objective of this LCVA is to quantify and evaluate the life-cycle environmental factors of a wide range of technically advanced (i.e., poised for commercialization) options for operating fuel cell vehicles in Canada. The selected fuel cell vehicle technologies are compared with conventional ICE vehicles as well as with other emerging vehicle alternatives that have reached the commercial market. In addition this LCVA will qualitatively identify technical design challenges and social impacts on consumers and society in general, and review the current economics of fuel cell vehicles and fuelling infrastructure. Specific questions to be answered by this LCVA include: I. How does the life-cycle environmental performance of various fuel supply options for fuel-cell vehicles compare with each other, with conventional vehicle fuels, and with select alternative fuels? II. What technical challenges and barriers to implementation exist or may exist in the future for each fuel supply scenario? III. What potential social benefits and/or costs exist or may exist in the future for each fuel supply scenario? IV. How do the life-cycle fuel costs (dollars per kilometre of fuel service) of various fuel supply options for fuel cell vehicles compare with each other, with conventional vehicle fuels, and with select alternative fuels?

The upstream performance of electric vehicle systems based on wind, hydroelectricity, nuclear, natural gas and coal is identical to the upstream performance of the electrolysis-based FCV systems using comparable sources of electricity, except there is less electricity required by the EV systems. For both the LDVs and the buses, 66% less electricity is required for electric vehicles, to travel the same distance as fuel cell vehicles. This effectively reduces the natural resource consumption in each of the systems compared to electrolysis and reduces the air emissions of both the natural gas- and coal-based systems. In nearly all stressor categories, life-cycle emissions from the natural gas–based system decrease by more than 40% compared to the base cases. The only increase in regional emissions occurs in NOX emissions for the Alberta trolley bus scenario (62% increase). For the most part, the majority of life-cycle air emissions from the coal-based systems remain higher than or unchanged from the base cases in the majority of stressor categories. In Toronto’s surrounding region, emissions for the LDV scenario increase more than three-fold for all stressor categories except CO. In the bus scenario, PM and SO2 increase 3.4 and 11 times respectively for the same region. In the Calgary scenarios, the air emissions are mostly shifted away from the cities to areas of coal-fired power plants. The majority of upstream stressor category emissions are more than twice as high as the base case scenarios for both LDVs and buses.

Overall, regional considerations are very important to system performance. Environmental, social and economic impacts in individual regions depend on the source of energy, the path of energy flow, and the point of energy use. Each of these factors helps determine both the magnitude and the location of impact.
The shifting of environmental, social and economic burden from one region to another is evident in a number of the systems analyzed. For example, the electricity-based systems shift many impacts from the cities of vehicle operation to regions of electricity production.

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