The adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) is accelerating globally with an estimated increase to 145M by 2030. Compared to gasoline fuelled cars, electric cars are a promising alternative to cut down on oil use and tackle climate change. However, are they really as sustainable as we are led to believe? For example, there are several factors that raise concern regarding the environmental friendliness of the electric car’s heart – the battery.
The controversy of the electric vehicle battery
Electric vehicles are the key for the green e-mobility transition, but they consume a lot of electricity. The electric grid which powers the battery often relies on fossil fuel combustion. The manufacturing process of electric car batteries alone is energy intensive, and requires the use of raw materials, such as cobalt, nickel and lithium. These are mainly produced in an unethical or environmentally unfriendly way. Then, there is the question of recycling. When the lifecycle of the battery comes to an end, is the battery recycled to be reused or does it end up in landfills releasing toxic chemicals into the atmosphere around us? Unfortunately, the recycling rates are still very low and only 5% of lithium-ion batteries are being recycled today.
Graphite: a critical raw material essential to the European market
Graphite is an integral additive for the EV batteries. An average electric vehicle battery holds approximately 66 kg-s of graphite, which is either mined or synthesized from fossil fuels. The rapidly increasing demand for electric vehicles poses a scale-up challenge for the raw material production. Europe imports 500 000 tons of graphite annually and as the volumes are increasing graphite has been named as a critical raw material. The lack of graphite mines and petrochemical resources forces Europe to be dependent on countries like China, which controls 75% of its graphite supply chain.
While graphite production has to increase 15-fold by 2040 to meet the demand projections, it must also become more sustainable to meet the global net zero targets. Current graphite production comes with high pollution and emission costs with a global warming effect of 5.3t CO2-eq per each ton of graphite produced.
The first scalable technology in the world to produce sustainable carbon
CO2Carbon is a joint effort of world-renowned research institutes and manufacturing partners to secure the supply chain of sustainable graphite and carbon nanomaterials in Europe. The idea of the project was born due to the demand of graphite and highly conductive additives, like carbon nanotubes, carbon nanofibers and carbon nanospheres for the new generation battery applications.
The aim of the project is to secure the European supply chain of sustainable carbon nanomaterials and graphite. A part of the project is to characterize the carbon nanomaterials produced and make real size batteries by the battery manufacturer. The molten salt carbon capture and electrochemical transformation (MSCC-ET) technology makes it possible to start producing carbon nanomaterials near industries and energy plants that emit enormous amounts of CO2 into the Earth’s atmosphere. This technology contributes directly to the circular economy as it closes economic loops in critical and toxic carbon raw material industries.
According to Benchmark Mineral Intelligence (BMI) global demand for the battery-grade graphite (with 99.99% purity) is projected to be 4.2 million tonnes by 2030, driven by the battery segment. Deloitte has estimated that 32 million EV-s will likely be sold annually by the same year.
We are on the brink of a huge environmental challenge and need to look for more sustainable alternatives to shake the whole battery manufacturing industry to its right course.