Electric cars and batteries

4 March 2021

The Paris climate targets have heralded a new energy era. However, the replacement of fossil fuels with "green" energies does not necessarily mean that they are cleaner. The electric car, for example, which holds out hope for the climate, consumes significantly more raw materials than a conventional car.

Of over 1.3 billion motor vehicles worldwide, just under eight million were electrically powered in 2019. According to the International Energy Agency, there could be between 140 and 245 million electric cars on the road worldwide by 2030. At the heart of an electrically powered vehicle is the battery, which requires cobalt, graphite and nickel as well as lithium. The World Bank expects demand for battery metals to increase fivefold by 2050.

Australia is by far the largest lithium producer in the world, producing 42,000 megatonnes annually. Australia's global market share is over fifty per cent. The lion's share is shipped to China, where it is further processed into battery-grade lithium hydroxide, as China dominates global battery production. Other important lithium producers are Chile, Argentina and Bolivia. There, however, the lithium is extracted from salt lakes using large amounts of water and is first enriched to form lithium carbonate before being converted into lithium hydroxide.

The carbon footprint of lithium-ion batteries is difficult to measure because there is a lack of data. Depending on the calculation model, an electric car could only save C02 compared to a diesel vehicle after seven years of operation. Alf Hornborg, human ecologist and professor at Lund University in Sweden, therefore criticises the fact that green technologies are presented as climate-smart and dematerialised. "We are now beginning to see that these solutions are illusory and that C02 emissions and environmental problems are only being displaced."

Source: Linda Osuky, WoZ


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