We are witnessing a global effort to tackle climate change by transitioning towards e-mobility. US President Joe Biden has set a goal for 50% of new car sales to be electric vehicles by 2030. Meanwhile, China, which is the largest electric vehicle market in the world, has also mandated that 40% of new cars sold should be electric by 2030. The European Parliament has recently approved a law that will ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars in the European Union from 2035. This move is a significant step in accelerating the shift to electric vehicles and addressing the sustainability challenges posed by electric car battery production.
Inside an electric car battery
While country leaders are rooting for the EV revolution and some countries are even handing out subsidies for the purchase of electric cars, the transition towards seemingly low-and zero-emission vehicle fleet on the streets does come at a cost that only a few talk about.
Electric cars may reduce emissions, but the lithium-ion batteries on which they run pose a unique sustainability challenge. It has often been disregarded that a typical electric car requires six times the mineral input of a conventional car.
For electric vehicle batteries to function effectively, specific raw materials are essential; their absence could result in rapid battery degradation. Among the metals required for battery operation are aluminum, copper, and iron, while the more costly precious metals such as cobalt, nickel, and manganese, as well as raw materials like graphite and lithium, are also crucial.
Many such metals are only found in selected areas of the world, such as China and South America. Mining them can lead to issues with world politics and supply chain dominance, as well as humanitarian concerns. Lithium also uses a lot of water when being mined, causing potential problems for agriculture.
For example, TeslaTesla Model 3 is equipped with a 80 kWh lithium-ion battery, but the manufacturing process of this battery can result in a range of CO2 emissions from 2400 kg to 16,000 kg.
So what can we do about it?
Ensuring emission-free mobility, renewable sources of power are required to power battery sustainability.
Recycling and reusing electric car batteries can provide some relief to the mining process but the technology surrounding it is still inefficient (we have a long way to go as just about 5% of the world’s batteries are currently being recycled)
Creating a mechanism for the safe disposal of batteries to prevent them from ending up in landfills
A push for sustainable and responsible sourcing of raw materials can prevent the socio-environmental issues that come with EV batteries.
The latter has been led by battery manufacturers seeking new materials that are sustainable, affordable and can enhance the battery properties. Inspired by this urgent need, UP Catalyst’s founders developed a novel technology that can produce graphite and carbon nanomaterials from CO2, reducing the total battery carbon footprint by 14%. The company’s mission is to revolutionise battery production and to offer a secure supply chain of sustainably and ethically sourced materials that can improve the battery’s characteristics.