Battery innovation shows EVs are the right way forward
No solution to the climate emergency is perfect – and EVs certainly aren’t a magic bullet. But advances in battery technology show that electrification is the right way forward: it will get cleaner and cleaner. New solid-state batteries, which could be on the market by mid-decade, can reduce a typical EV’s carbon footprint by as much as 39%.
While an EV doesn’t have the tailpipe emissions of a petrol or diesel car, it still has a carbon footprint, with two main components. On the one hand, there’s the production of the EV itself, and especially of its lithium-ion battery; on the other, there’s the electricity needed to power the EV, often still generated in large part by fossil-fuel-powered energy plants.
That footprint is often quoted by EV skeptics, but their argument is getting weaker. For one, the energy sector is rapidly switching to wind, solar and other sources of renewable energy. And for another, battery technology is advancing at breakneck speed, promising ever cleaner, better-performing batteries.
Case in point: solid-state batteries. Contrary to the liquid electrolytes that carry electric current in lithium-ion batteries, solid-state batteries use solid ceramics as a conduit for electricity. This makes this type of batteries lighter, faster to charge, and – once the technology is scaled up – also cheaper.
Experts predict solid-state batteries will come onto the market in the second half of the 2020s. One of the most promising solid-state battery types being developed is the so-called NMC-811. According to new research commissioned by Transport & Environment (T&E), an umbrella group of NGOs promoting sustainable transport, batteries of this type can reduce the already diminishing carbon footprint of a lithium-ion battery by another 24%.
“EVs are already far better for the planet. But solid-state technology is a step change, because their higher energy density means far less materials, and therefore far less emissions, are needed to make them”, says Cecilia Mattea, Clean Vehicles Officer at T&E.
And it gets even better. If solid-state batteries are made using only the most sustainable mining methods, their carbon footprint can be reduced by as much as 39% (again, compared to current lithium-ion batteries).
Solid-state batteries require far less graphite and cobalt that current lithium-ion batteries, but – ironically – up to 35% more lithium. However, the EU’s Batteries Regulation proposes responsible sourcing and recycling of lithium, which would ensure a steady supply of the material.
That Batteries Regulation is currently still being negotiated by the European Parliament and the governments of the EU’s member states. T&E urges lawmakers to ensure the Batteries Regulation incentivises the production of batteries with a smaller carbon footprint, and with lithium recycling targets that hit 70% in 2025 and 90% in 2030, which is higher than the proposal by the European Commission.
It is likely that, as usual, the EU will work out a compromise that will please nobody entirely but will be a step forward. With solid-state batteries, EVs will become leaner, cleaner and… cheaper. And that’s good for the planet, as well as for corporate fleets and their various environmental and commercial targets.