Several carmakers have plans for extremely long-lasting “million-mile batteries.” Will they have a big impact on battery sustainability?
In theory, long-lasting batteries are a positive development, of course. However, many current life-cycle assessments only take a “cradle to gate” approach, and therefore don’t even take into account the lifetime of the battery. In its new battery regulation, the EU proposes a “cradle to grave” perspective instead, where longevity will have an impact.
But I doubt that this will have a strong effect simply because we don’t drive that much. Usually, ten-year-old electric vehicles today rarely have more than 100,000 miles on the clock. So, in theory, cars would have to last 100 years to fully use the battery. It is, of course, different for buses, delivery vans, taxis and vehicles used for shared mobility, for which longevity will be more important, but bear in mind that the vehicles in the latter categories are often sold on before the batteries have degraded. Increased longevity will also further improve the case for vehicle-to-grid applications though. To take the battery out of old electric vehicles and just use them in new cars is unrealistic, because then you have a ten-year technology development in between, but surely we can use the batteries to replace or upgrade other batteries used in the same or earlier models.
Many batteries already outlive their car anyway. When the car reaches the end of its lifetime, the battery is usually salvaged and used in another application, because there is so much value in it. The car dismantler will sell the battery to someone who is able to capture that value, for example for stationary storage projects or conversion of internal combustion vehicles to EVs. If that use is accounted for in life-cycle assessments, it has a very positive impact.
How far can we reduce batteries’ emissions backpack? Will we eventually have CO2-neutral batteries?
Yes, I think so. The first thing we should do now is to become as efficient as possible. It’s like insulating your house, which is much more important than putting solar cells on the roof. Of course, if you install solar cells afterwards, it’s even better. The same thing is true for the plants. First, they need to become much more efficient. And the more renewable energy we get into the system, the better they will get. When we finally come to the point of using renewable energy to produce what is needed to produce renewables and other low-emission technologies like batteries, we’re pretty close to reaching climate neutral production.