Lithium Electric Vehicle Car Batteries – What you need to know. Part 2

This is article number two in Fergal Mee and his team’s series of articles based around Electric Vehicles. This week we will be focusing on performance comparisons between hybrids/combustion engines. Click here to read last week’s series intro and the history of electric cars.

Electric car manufacturing in China has shown that GHG emissions from production of EVs is about 14.6 tonnes of GHG per vehicle. For the equivalent sized petrol car the GHG emissions are 9.1 tonnes of GHG per vehicle.

When taking well-to-wheel emissions into account, all-electric vehicles emit an average of around 2018 kg of CO2 equivalent each year. By comparison, conventional petrol cars will emit over twice as much annually on the road.

Another benefit of electric cars is that they do not emit other air pollutants such as oxides of nitrogen which are a respiratory irritant. If you have an electric vehicle which uses a 40 kWh battery – its embedded emissions from manufacturing would then be equivalent to the CO2 emissions caused by driving a diesel car with a fuel consumption of 5 litres per 100 km for a distance between 11,800 km and 89,400 km before the electric car even has driven one meter.

Lithium extraction

“One of the biggest environmental problems caused by our endless hunger for the latest and smartest devices is a growing mineral crisis, particularly those needed to make our batteries,” says Christina Valimaki an analyst at Elsevier.

Lithium extraction in South America uses a brine extraction process which is a relatively cheap and effective process, but it uses a lot of water- each tonne of Lithium consumes – approximately;

  • 500,000 US gallons or
  • 1,893 m3 or tonnes
  • 1,893 Litres

This means every 1 tonne of lithium consumes 1,893 tonnes of water!

“According to a report by Friends of the Earth, lithium extraction inevitably harms the soil and causes air contamination. In Argentina’s Salar de Hombre Muerto, locals claim that lithium operations have contaminated streams used by humans and livestock, and for crop irrigation. In Chile, there have been clashes between mining companies and local communities, who say that lithium mining is leaving the landscape marred by mountains of discarded salt and canals filled with contaminated water with an unnatural blue hue”

In Tibet lithium extraction has caused fish kills in local waterways.

Lithium Recycling: There are today only two companies that currently have the capability to recycle the large lithium ion batteries required for BEVs, both based in USA.

Lithium Battery Re-Use: Various pilot projects are under way to reuse lithium-ion batteries for other purposes after the vehicle is retired. From a life cycle perspective, this would effectively spread the impacts of the battery over a longer battery lifetime.

Cobalt: Cobalt is another component of EV batteries. The Guardian newspaper reports that

“In addition to the environmental concerns related to lithium production, cobalt mining is unequivocally destructive on multiple levels. Currently, half of the world’s cobalt is produced in the Republic of Congo. Concerning cobalt mining in the Congo region, journalists have revealed human and environmental abuses ranging from child and slave labour, to toxic waste leakage and radioactivity in cobalt mines. “In 2014, according to UNICEF, about 40,000 children were working in mines across southern DRC, many of them extracting cobalt” See CNN Special Child salve labour report on cobalt mining at

An article in late 2018 by Dirk Blijweert of Louvain University on the hidden costs of cobalt mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo states that:-

“Children living in the mining district had 10 times as much cobalt in their urine as children living elsewhere. . . . we found more DNA damage in children living in the mining area than in those from the control group. And the preliminary results of an ongoing study suggest that miners’ new born babies have an increased risk of birth defects.”

The world’s most admired scientific journal Nature reports that cobalt mining in DRC leads to . . . that people living in a neighbourhood that had been transformed into an artisanal cobalt mine had much higher levels of cobalt in their urine and blood than people living in a nearby control area. The differences were most pronounced for children, in whom we also found evidence of exposure-related oxidative DNA damage. It was already known that industrial mining and processing of metals has led to severe environmental pollution in the region. This field study provides novel and robust empirical evidence that the artisanal extraction of cobalt that prevails in the DR Congo may cause toxic harm to vulnerable communities. This strengthens the conclusion that the currently existing cobalt supply chain is not sustainable.

Consequentially, batteries for electric cars lead to significant damage in China, South America and Africa.

The Journal, Extractive Industries and Society, Volume 8, Issue 1, 2021 in an article “When subterranean slavery supports sustainability transitions? power, patriarchy, and child labour in artisanal Congolese cobalt mining states

The revitalization of ASM cobalt mining actually a positive phenomenon for the Congolese people? Civil society groups and the popular media, for example, have published an alarming number of reports linking ASM mines to human rights abuses, child labor, unfair treatment of women, and overall deleterious effects on local communities (Amnesty International 2016a; Amnesty International 2016b; Crawford 2017; Kara 2018; CNN Money 2018; Business Human Rights. org 2018; Sherman 2018). Callaway et al. (2018: 8) write about perpetual “non-transparency, corruption, violence, and human rights abuses in Congo’s cobalt mining sector,” Lindberg and Andersson (2019: 14) identify a mining sector “plagued by deep poverty and extreme corruption … of constant war and sexual abuse on a scale that almost cannot be understood.” But are these claims overblown, and backed by robust, mixed methods empirical data?

Based on extensive and original field research—including expert interviews, community interviews, and naturalistic observation at mining sites—this study confirms the veracity, severity, and brutality of some of the media’s claims about cobalt.

Sign up here to receive the next article in this series directly to your inbox before it goes live to the public

If you require further information or assistance, please contact us via email at or by phone at +44 (0)20 3869 1869.