Lithium Electric Vehicle Car Batteries – “What you need to know”. Part 3

This is article number three in Fergal Mee and his team’s series of articles based around Electric Vehicles. This week we will be focusing on the importance of measuring the life cycle emissions. Click here to read last week’s article on performance comparisons between hybrids/combustion engines

Global warming emissions from merely driving an EV are not the full story. We must be attentive to the “bottom line”—the vehicle’s overall global warming emissions during its life cycle—which takes into account its operation, production (including battery production and mineral extraction), and disposal. The manufacture of EV batteries, for example, is of particular concern regarding global warming emissions.  In addition batteries use a large quantity of lithium and cobalt – these materials come from less developed countries which operate harsh mining practices.  To create one tonne of lithium carbonate for use in batteries we must consume 1,500,000 litres (1,500 tonnes) of water (in the Salar de Atacama region of Chile)

With the mass market penetration of electric vehicles, the Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions associated with lithium-ion battery production has become a major concern. In this study, by establishing a life cycle assessment framework, GHG emissions from the production of lithium-ion batteries in China are estimated. The results show that for the three types of most commonly used lithium-ion batteries, the (LFP) battery, the (NMC) battery and the (LMO) battery, the GHG emissions from the production of a 28 kWh battery are 3061 kgCO2e, 2912 kgCO2e and 2705 kgCO2e, respectively. This implies around a 30% increase in GHG emissions from electric vehicle production compared with the production of conventional vehicles. The productions of cathode materials and wrought aluminium are the dominating contributors of GHG emissions, together accounting for around three quarters of total emissions from an electric car. From the perspective of process energy use, around 40% of total emissions are associated with electricity use.

The Chart A (below) compares regular vehicles with hybrid and electric cars.  The second car is a Toyota Prius Hybrid (from https://www.eco-business.com/news/factcheck-how-electric-vehicles-help-to-tackle-climate-change/)

The emissions from an all-electric Nissan Leaf vary in different countries (this is due to the electricity network having different emission factors – for example Norway and France show the lowest emissions as their national electricity grids use large nuclear and hydro-electric generating stations. So where we run electric cars makes a difference to the actual emissions.

 

In short where there are low national electricity grid emissions the electric vehicle produces lower emissions than a petrol or diesel car. Conversely, where the electricity grid emission factor is relatively high, driving electric cars produces higher emissions than petrol or diesel. This is true when the grid emission factor is above.

 

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