Electric Car Batteries Need Far Less Raw Materials Than Fossil-Fuel Cars — New Study

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Originally published on Transport & Environment.
By Sam Hargreaves

An electric vehicle (EV) battery uses up just 30kg of raw materials with recycling compared to the 17,000 litres of petrol burned by the average car. That’s according to a new study that shows Europe’s current crude oil dependency far outweighs its need for battery raw materials. The gap is set to increase further as technological advancements drive down the amount of lithium required to make an EV battery by half over the next decade. The amount of cobalt required will drop by more than three-quarters and nickel by around a fifth.

Lucien Mathieu, transport and e-mobility analyst at T&E, said:

“When it comes to raw materials there is simply no comparison. Over its lifetime, an average fossil-fuel car burns the equivalent of a stack of oil barrels, 25 storeys high. If you take into account the recycling of battery materials, only around 30kg of metals would be lost — roughly the size of a football.”

In 2035 over a fifth of the lithium and 65% of the cobalt needed to make a new battery could come from recycling, the study finds. T&E said the recycling rates, which are required under a new law proposed by the European Commission, will significantly reduce EVs’ demand for new materials — something that cannot be said for conventional cars.

Europe will likely produce enough batteries to supply its own EV market as early as 2021, the study also finds. Already 22 battery gigafactories are planned for the next decade with total production capacity extending to 460 GWh in 2025, enough for around 8 million battery electric cars.

Lucien Mathieu, added:

“This is a far cry from the current situation where Europe’s car fleet is almost entirely dependent on crude oil imports. Increased battery efficiency and recycling will leave the EU significantly less dependent on imports for raw materials than it is for oil.”

Overall, EVs are also far better for the climate, requiring 58% less energy than a petrol car over their lifetime, the study finds. And, as T&E’s lifecycle analysis tool shows, even in Poland, which has the dirtiest electricity supply in the EU, EVs emit 22% less CO2 than petrol cars.


Batteries vs oil: A comparison of raw material needs

T&E’s study assesses the amount of raw materials needed to make electric vehicle batteries today and in the future — taking into account changes in manufacturing processes and recycling. It compares this with the raw materials needed to run a fossil fuel car to show that electric car batteries need significantly less raw materials.

The report also shows that on a systemic level Europe’s overreliance on oil imports far outweighs those of battery raw materials, helping Europe to become self-sufficient in batteries.

Key findings:

  • Electric vehicles consume far less raw material (metals) than fossil fueled cars

When taking into account the recycling of the battery cell materials and that the majority of the metal content is recovered, T&E calculates how much is ‘consumed’ or ‘lost’ during the lifetime of an EV. Under the EU’s current recycling recovery rate target, around 30 kilograms of metals would be lost (i.e. not recovered). That’s about the size of a football.

In contrast, the study shows that the weight of petrol or diesel that is burned during the average lifetime of a vehicle is around 300-400 times more than the total quantity of battery cells metals ‘lost’. Over its lifetime, an average ICE car burns close to 17,000 liters of petrol, which would be equivalent to a stack of oil barrels 90m high.

  • Less raw material will be needed for batteries over time

Technological advancements will drive down the amount of lithium required to make an EV battery by half over the next decade. The amount of cobalt required will drop by more than three-quarters and nickel by around a fifth.

  • Europe will need to import less raw material because of recycling

In 2035 over a fifth of the lithium and nickel, and 65% of the cobalt, needed to make a new battery could come from recycling.

  • Europe will likely produce enough batteries to supply its own EV market as early as 2021

T&E calculates that there will be 460 GWh (in 2025) and 700 GWh (2030) of battery production in Europe — enough to meet the demand of electric cars.

Download: Study: Batteries vs oil: A comparison of raw material needs.

Featured image by Benjah-bmm27, published in the public domain.

 



 


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