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Electric cars’ batteries greatly affect the climate

A new report highlights the impact on the climate that the manufacture of electric vehicle batteries is. Manufacturing a final electric car battery is equivalent to many thousands of miles driving with a petrol or diesel car.

Electric cars are part of the future. Driving is one of the advantages that exhaust gases are missing and therefore the climate impact – when driving – is very small. Additionally, if you charge the batteries with climate-smart electricity, the concept becomes even better. But is the electric car so very climate-like as it is often meant to be? Both yes and no. The manufacturing process itself, just like for non-electric cars, is costly to the emissions, and not least the battery production itself.

According to a new report compiled by IVL, the Swedish Environmental Agency for Energy Agency and the Swedish Transport Agency, battery production is so energy-intensive that the electric vehicle’s climate benefit is partially lost.

“Electric cars and hybrid cars have major advantages over petrol and diesel cars, especially in terms of local emissions and noise levels. But it is also important to look backwards and minimize environmental impact at the production stage, “says Lisbeth Dahllöf, researcher at IVL Swedish Environmental Institute, which, together with his colleague Mia Romare, has reviewed literature on greenhouse gas emissions and energy consumption in the production and recycling of lithium-ion batteries for light vehicles.

According to their compilation, an average of 150 to 200 kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent per kilowatt-hour battery is produced for light electric cars (eg passenger cars). For an electric car with a 30 kWh battery, it means between 4.5 and 6 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions only in the manufacture of the battery. For an electric car with a 100 kWh battery, it means that between 15 and 20 tonnes of carbon dioxide will be released during the manufacturing process. The calculations are based on between 50 and 70 percent fossil share in the electricity mix used in the production.

– The results show that one should not consider choosing an electric car with a larger battery than necessary. In the future, it is important that the production of electric car batteries is as energy-efficient as possible and with the supply of electricity without or with low carbon emissions, “says Mia Romare.

In order to make the numbers more easy-to-understand and set in context, we will below summarize how far you can drive different petrol and diesel-powered cars before reaching the same amount of carbon dioxide emissions. All calculations are based on the official figures presented by car manufacturers, ie the emission-based NEDC driving cycle (mixed driving) that will soon be replaced. Even though the European Driving Cycle (NEDC) is perverted and many times directly incorrect in comparison to reality, the calculations still provide an interesting and more or less accurate comparison image.

Comparative Example 1
To manufacture a 100 kWh battery today, only Tesla offers that capacity, resulting in 15-20 tonnes of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere. A Mercedes E 220 d (diesel) emits 102 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometer, which means that when mixed driving can travel between 14 706 and 19 608 miles to reach the 15-20 tons that the electric car’s battery demands in the manufacturing process.

A Mercedes E 200 (gasoline) releases 140 grams per kilometer. This means that it can run between 10 714 and 14 286 miles to reach up to 15-20 tonnes of carbon dioxide.

Even the E-class family Mercedes-AMG E 63 S 4Matic + (612 hp petrol car) can run many thousands of miles before it reaches the carbon dioxide levels required to produce a 100 kWh battery. With 199 grams per kilometer, it is between 7,538 and 10,050 miles.

Comparative Example 2
If, instead, we expect a smaller electric battery, such as Volkswagen e-Golf, which now has 35.8 kilowatt-hours of capacity, the comparison will follow. The production of the battery requires carbon dioxide emissions between 5.37 and 7.16 tonnes according to the calculation method mentioned earlier in the article.
This means that a Volkswagen Golf 1.0 TSI DSG (gasoline) releasing 107 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometer (mixed run) can run between 5 019 and 6 692 miles before reaching said emission levels (5.37-7.16 tonnes).

The corresponding mileage for a Volkswagen Golf 1.6 TDI DSG (diesel) that emits 102 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometer is between 5,265 and 7,020 miles.

In other words, cars with internal combustion engines can roll several miles before they have impacted the environment and the climate to the same extent as only the electric vehicle batteries manufacture process.

Car manufacturing requires high energy consumption
It should be emphasized that the manufacture of cars with internal combustion engines is a process that also heavily burden the environment. There is a calculation method that states that for every 10,000 kronor in the purchase price of one car, it releases 600 kilos of carbon dioxide at the time of manufacture. This means that a Mercedes E 220 d, which costs 394 900 SEK, releases 23.7 tonnes in the manufacture of the car.
Based on the same calculation, 12.9 tonnes of carbon dioxide are released in the production of a Volkswagen Golf 1.0 TSI DSG, which costs from SEK 215,400.

However, it should be added that the manufacture of electric cars is also energy-intensive and results in heavy carbon dioxide emissions. The above mentioned figures for electric cars only concern the manufacture of lithium-ion batteries, which must include the manufacture of other components, such as bodywork, interior, glass, electric motor and so on. In other words, additional tons of carbon dioxide are released

Our article from last year that a new electric car is dirtier than an old petrol car, gets through the new report some form of further confirmation. However, this article does not take into account the energy production process of the battery manufacturing process, but calculates straightforward 600 kg of carbon dioxide per 10 000 SEK in consumer price.

It must also be added that the above figures are based on what it looks like today. Technology and development are constantly advancing and manufacturing processes are improving. In the future, we are likely to see new battery technicians who require significantly less energy at the time of manufacture.