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MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development

global challenges, engineering solutions

Developing a sustainability rating framework for light-duty battery electric vehicles

As countries around the world look to phase out light-duty combustion engine vehicles in the coming decades, battery electric vehicles (BEVs) are emerging as the prime candidate to replace them. The perceived environmental benefits are strong motivators among many BEV adopters, but the question remains as to whether they are being given the full picture. To address that and promote a sustainable transition to electric mobility, this study seeks to develop a sustainability rating framework for BEVs. The main sustainability impact areas are first established through a review of relevant studies and reports, complemented by a thematic analysis of interviews with an energy researcher, industry experts and consumers. On that basis, the findings are consolidated into a causal loop diagram, which is analysed to identify the intervention points that will maximise the sustainability benefits and limit the impacts and unintended consequences associated with BEVs. These intervention points are then used to develop a novel two-part sustainability rating framework for BEVs, combining both quantitative and qualitative criteria: the first part promotes demand avoidance and demand shifting to existing, lower-carbon transport means to reduce demand for BEVs, while the second part aims to assess the sustainability implications of BEVs to allow potential adopters to make an informed choice.

Indeed, the research has revealed that BEVs can improve local air quality and reduce global warming potential when displacing miles from combustion engine vehicles in urban areas and when charged with low-carbon electricity. However, it has also revealed that a large-scale, fast-paced uptake of BEVs, in particular long-range ones, could lead to serious social and environmental impacts on the wider system, including exacerbating climate change and raising the risk of human rights violations in the supply chain. Developments in fast-charging infrastructure and battery repairability, reuse and recycling are likely to alleviate some of the sustainability hotspots. Until then, it is crucial that the transition to BEVs takes place in a controlled and targeted fashion to maximise the sustainability benefits, while giving stakeholders the best opportunity to take proactive action to reduce the risk of the unintended consequences.


Course Overview


The need to engage in better problem definition through careful dialogue with all stakeholder groups and a proper recognition of context.


An ability to work with specialists from other disciplines and professional groups acknowledging that technical innovation and business skills also must be understood, nurtured and combined as precursors to the successful implementation of sustainable solutions.


An understanding of mechanisms for managing change in organisations so future engineers are equipped to play a leadership role.


An awareness of a range of assessment frameworks, sustainability metrics and methodologies such as Life Cycle Analysis, Systems Dynamics, Multi-Criteria Decision making and Impact Assessment.