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New report: EV battery production footprint revealed

Mon 10 July 2017 | Back to news list

A new report finds that the production of lithium-ion batteries for light electric vehicles releases on average 150-200kg of carbon dioxide equivalents per kilowatt-hour (kWh) battery. An electric car with a 100kWh battery has thus emitted 15-20 tons of carbon dioxide even before the vehicle ignition is turned on. This calculation assumes a 50-70 per cent fossil share in the electricity mix.

The latest study, from the IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute, says that how long it takes for an EV to 'break even' in climate terms depends on how much you drive, the size of the battery in the vehicle and the carbon intensity of the local electricity grid.  

The desk-based research, across life-cycle assessment studies from countries in Europe, USA and Asia, showed that in order to extend vehicles' range electric car batteries are getting much bigger. (The Nissan Leaf has a battery of about 30kWh but other, newer models have batteries more than three times this power output.) One of the researchers' key recommendations was that batteries should not be as large as possible, but rather as large as necessary as battery production is energy consuming and to some extent limits the climate benefits of electrification. 

However, the authors emphasize that technology is developing rapidly, that their figures address today’s situation, and that there is a need for more data from the manufacturers. Figures also vary according to battery design.

Automotive batteries contain metals such as lithium and often cobalt and nickel. Since metal extraction is chemically intensive, finite and energy demanding, it is important to make significant advances in this area. The study also points to the need to supplement the carbon labelling of vehicles in use today with life-cycle information about manufacturing and end-of-life treatment.

A first step, they say, should be to require vehicle manufacturers to produce so-called environmental product declarations for electric vehicles, and to include life-cycle analysis data from the manufacturing process.

Note: The LowCVP is aiming to revisit the seminal 2013 study by PE International - Life Cycle CO2e Assessment of Low Carbon Cars 2020-2030 -  which was commissioned by the Partnership - and that by Ricardo in 2011 - Preparing for a Life Cycle CO2 Measure. The LowCVP will be looking for input and support from members during this process.

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