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EV batteries: Recycling of raw materials is the key to sustainability
shayma shamim
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Published on 31st Jul 21

EV batteries: Recycling of raw materials is the key to sustainability

Electric car batteries consume less raw materials than combustion engines. This was revealed by a study by Transport & Environment (T&E) which places a further important step in support of more sustainable mobility from the point of view of climate change.

Global warming is a serious problem. Greenhouse gases generated by humans, especially carbon dioxide but not only, are a direct cause of the phenomenon, as amply demonstrated by the "hockey-stick" graph based on the reconstruction made by Mann, Bradley & Hughes in 1999. The causes are fairly distributed equally among all human activities. According to the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations body), electricity production is responsible for a quarter of emissions, while another quarter comes from agriculture, livestock, and deforestation. Industry and civilian settlements generate another abundant quarter of greenhouse gases. 14% is attributable to transport, ships, planes, trucks, and cars, which alone are held responsible for 5/6%. These are global data as is the accumulation of CO2.


Strategy towards electric mobility

The EU is the most virtuous region, given that it emits about 3 billion tons and above all, it has been in a declining trend since the beginning of the century, like the USA which, however, emits over 5 billion. China has exceeded 10 billion, more than three times the level of the beginning of the century. And if in America the largest share of emissions comes from transport, housing, and commercial activities, in China industry is the first contributor, given the still low level of motorization.

As a corollary, this leads to the hypothesis that their strategy towards electric mobility is not motivated by an environmental interest, but rather by the technological delay on combustion engines and the consequent need to counter region supremacy embarked on the path of limiting emissions for cars. The study by T&E, which is an NGO for sustainable mobility based in Brussels, which receives funding from the Commission itself and dozens of other organizations, does not however focus on emissions, but on the consumption of raw materials, revealing that "batteries electric cars need a much lower quantity of raw materials than cars powered by fossil fuels, taking into account the recycling process.


This is an important point of recycling. According to the study, "in 2035 more than a fifth of the lithium and 65% of the cobalt needed to produce a new battery could come from the recycling of old batteries." The conclusion of T&E is therefore that "the recycling rates required by a new legislative measure of the European Commission will drastically reduce the demand for virgin materials for electric vehicles, which is not likely for conventional cars".

Wrapping up

The conclusion that the latest generation diesel is more sustainable than an electric is in a drawer, but it could pop up at any moment. Let's add that things on the market are not going quite as expected. First of all, motorists have discovered that with hybrid cars, preferably plug-in, they can satisfy environmental awareness without looking for a column and then remain attached to it for hours. Then came the pandemic, which reset priorities. With health at stake, people travel more by car, and some wonder if CO2 is still the priority or if it should not make room for other health emergencies. Here recycling becomes essential, to reassure both addiction and ethical and compassionate issues.

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