In-Life Range Modularity for Electric Vehicles: The Environmental Impact of a Range-Extender Trailer System

Nils Stephan Hooftman, Maarten Messagie, Frédéric Joint, Jean-Baptiste Segard, Thierry Coosemans

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

7 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose: In the light of decarbonizing the passenger car sector, several technologies are available today. In this paper, we distinguish plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV), electric vehicles (EV) with a modest battery capacity of 40 kWh, and long-range EVs with 90 kWh installed. Given that the average motorist only rarely performs long-distance trips, both the PHEV and the 90 kWh EV are considered to be over-dimensioned for their purpose, although consumers tend to perceive the 40 kWh EV’s range as too limiting. Therefore, in-life range modularity by means of occasionally using a range-extender trailer for a 40 kWh EV is proposed, based on either a petrol generator as a short-term solution or a 50 kWh battery pack. Method: A life cycle assessment (LCA) is presented for comparing the different powertrains for their environmental impact, with the emphasis on local air quality and climate change. Therefore, the combination of a 40 kWh EV and the trailer options is benchmarked with a range of conventional cars and EVs, differentiated per battery capacity. Next, the local impact per technology is discussed on a well-to-wheel base for the specific situation in Belgium, with specific attention given to the contribution of non-exhaust emissions of PM due to brake, tyre, and road wear. Results: From a life cycle point of view, the trailer concepts outperform the 90 kWh EV for the discussed midpoint indicators as the latter is characterized by a high manufacturing impact and by a mass penalty resulting in higher contributions to non-exhaust PM formation. Compared to a petrol PHEV, both trailers are found to have higher contributions to diminished local air quality, given the relatively low use phase impact of petrol combustion. Concerning human toxicity, the impact is proportional to battery size, although the battery trailer performs better than the 90 kWh EV due to its occasional application rather than carrying along such high capacity all the time. For climate change, we see a clear advantage of both the petrol and the battery trailer, with reductions ranging from one-third to nearly sixty percent, respectively. Conclusion: Whereas electrified powertrains have the potential to add to better urban air quality, their life cycle impact cannot be neglected as battery manufacturing remains a substantial contributor to the EV’s overall impact. Therefore, in-life range modularity helps to reduce this burden by offering an extended range only when it is needed. This is relevant to bridge the years up until cleaner battery chemistries break through, while the energy production sector increases the implementation of renewables. Petrol generator trailers are no long-term solution but should be seen as an intermediate means until battery technology costs have further dropped to make it economically feasible to commercialize battery trailer range-extenders. Next, active regulation is required for non-exhaust PM emissions as they could dominate locally in the future if more renewables would be applied in the electricity production process
Original languageEnglish
Article number1016
Number of pages19
JournalApplied Sciences
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 21 Jun 2018


  • Air quality
  • CO
  • LCA
  • Mobility needs
  • Paris Agreement
  • Range-extender


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