One of the biggest criticisms of electric cars is that they’re not as green as you might think, with claims it takes years of driving one to offset the high emissions resulting from battery production.
However, a new report says electric vehicles will become more economical in the future when manufacturers switch to using solid state batteries, claiming they will reduce EV carbon footprint by almost a quarter.
The study, conducted by raw materials experts in the UK, says that carbon emissions could be reduced by as much as two fifths if these next-generation batteries are made from the most sustainably-sourced materials available.
Electric cars could become much greener before the end of the decade: New report claims models using solid state batteries will cut production-related emissions by a quarter
Greenhouse gas emissions during production of an electric vehicles are far higher than an equivalent petrol model, which is mainly due to the carbon intensity of battery and steel production.
The difference is so great that experts suggest it can take years until the eco benefits of an electric vehicle are realised.
Volvo made bold statements last year that it could take up to 70,000 miles – or nine years of ownership on average in the UK – for one of its EVs to become greener than a combustion-engine alternative, such is the high carbon impact of battery production in particular.
However, experts in the field say a more accurate estimation is between 13,500 and 16,000 miles – around two years of driving – for the extra carbon footprint of EV production to be offset.
Green think tank Transport & Environment (T&E) says this will all change in the next few years when electric car makers are expected to start using next-generation solid state batteries.
The campaign group believes this be the tech powering new EVs from the second half of the decade.
These batteries require up to 35 per cent more lithium than the current lithium-ion technology fitted in most of today’s electric cars, but far less graphite and cobalt is needed for solid state packs.
They also use solid ceramic material instead of liquid electrolytes to carry electric current, which makes them lighter, faster to charge and – potentially – cheaper.
Despite being made of less material, solid state batteries are capable of storing a lot more energy, meaning not only can they provide longer driving ranges but their production is far less emission intensive and can dramatically reduce the existing EV-production carbon footprint.
Transport & Environment’s study estimates that a solid state battery made of sustainably-sourced materials will reduce the carbon footprint compared to today’s EVs by up to 39%
EV battery experts estimate it takes between 13,500 and 16,000 miles of driving – equivalent to two years of UK ownership – for the extra carbon footprint of EV production to be offset
T&E’s report says they will reduce the production carbon footprint of electric cars by of an estimated 24 per cent.
And if the most sustainably-sourced materials are used in the batteries, the CO2 reduction benefits are a predicted to be even greater – around 39 per cent.
To achieve the latter, manufacturers would also need to adopt new mining methods, including extracting lithium from geothermal wells – which is being pioneered by Cornish Lithium among others – and has been found to significantly lower climate impacts than more commonly used sources such as lithium from hard rock mined in Australia and refined in China.
The calculation have been made on behalf of the green transport group by experts at Minviro – a UK-based company that specialises in raw material life-cycle analysis, which compared an NMC-811 solid state battery to current lithium-ion technology.
Commenting on the findings from the research, Matt Finch, UK Director at T&E, said: ‘Electric vehicles in the UK already produce far fewer emissions than cars burning oil and this is improving every year as electricity gets greener.
‘But solid state technology will achieve a step change requiring far less materials, and cause even less environmental damage.’
Solid state batteries require more lithium than the current EV batteries but far less graphite and cobalt. They also use solid ceramic material instead of liquid electrolytes to carry electric current, which makes them lighter, faster to charge and – potentially – cheaper
T&E said the UK’s low-carbon electricity production positions it to become a leader in cleaner battery manufacturing, but it needs strong safeguards to ensure the raw materials are consistently sourced sustainably and recycled at the end of their life.
The requirements in the EU’s proposed Batteries Regulation for lithium to be sourced responsibly – in terms of environmental and social impacts – and recycled are a ‘no regrets’ policy that will ensure there is enough supply for solid state batteries.
There are no equivalent requirements planned in the UK.
‘The EU is introducing new rules to clean up the way we obtain the raw materials in batteries and to require old cells to be reused and recycled,’ Mr Finch added.
‘But the UK has no equivalent plans and as a result, Germany has three times more battery recycling plants planned.
‘The UK is literally throwing away the opportunity to reduce raw material imports, create new jobs and reduce the impact of making batteries.’
T&E says the UK Government must implement similar but better rules than those proposed by the EU, including tougher lithium recycling targets.
UK regulations should also ensure companies are required to protect human rights and the environment in all stages of battery production.