A new study did a deep dive into the emissions from the full life cycles, from petroleum extraction to mining, of both electric cars and fossil fuel-powered cars.

The result is unsurprising but needed to dispel misinformation.

One of the oil industry’s favorite ways to try to attack electric cars was to say that they are just as polluting as gas-powered vehicles because they were powered by an electric grid that burns coal and natural gas.

That has already been disproved by several studies, and the advantage for electric vehicles is growing as the grid is becoming cleaner with a higher mix of solar, wind, and hydropower in most markets.

Now the oil industry is using another argument to discredit electric vehicles: mining resources to build batteries is just as bad as the environment as burning petrol.

Like the argument about the grid, we thought that it was flawed due to battery recycling and now a study confirms it.

Transport and Environment (T&E), an NGO that looks into the impact of transport on the environment, has released a new study that looks to compare emissions from raw materials to produce electric cars versus gas-powered vehicles:

“T&E’s study assesses the amount of raw materials needed to make electric vehicle batteries today and in the future – taking into account changes in manufacturing processes and recycling. It compares this with the raw materials needed to run a fossil fuel car to show that electric car batteries need significantly less raw materials.”

The study focuses on some of the aspects that are often missed in emissions from full life cycles of gas versus electric.

For the electric vehicles, it’s the fact that you don’t just burn a battery pack like you burn gas.

T&E found that only about 30 kilograms of metals would be lost after recycling in an electric car battery pack.

In comparison, an average gas-powered car will burn 300 to 400 times that weight in gas over its lifetime.

The study also highlights that petrol extraction is refining is also an energy extensive industry that often relies on the same grid as electric vehicles do for charging.

Here are the key findings from the study:

  • Electric vehicles consume far less raw material (metals) than fossil fueled cars

When taking into account the recycling of the battery cell materials and that the majority of the metal content is recovered, T&E calculates how much is ‘consumed’ or ‘lost’ during the lifetime of an EV. Under the EU’s current recycling recovery rate target, around 30 kilograms of metals would be lost (i.e. not recovered).

In contrast, the study shows that the weight of petrol or diesel that is burned during the average lifetime of a vehicle is around 300-400 times more than the total quantity of battery cells metals ‘lost’. Over its lifetime, an average ICE car burns close to 17,000 liters of petrol, which would be equivalent to a stack of oil barrels 90m high.

  • Less raw material will be needed for batteries over time

Technological advancements will drive down the amount of lithium required to make an EV battery by half over the next decade. The amount of cobalt required will drop by more than three-quarters and nickel by around a fifth.

  • Europe will need to import less raw material because of recycling

In 2035 over a fifth of the lithium and nickel, and 65% of the cobalt, needed to make a new battery could come from recycling. 

  • Europe will likely produce enough batteries to supply its own EV market as early as 2021

T&E calculates that there will be 460 GWh (in 2025) and 700 GWh (2030) of battery production in Europe – enough to meet the demand of electric cars.

Here’s the study in full:

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