Why Battery Manufacturers Should Lower Their Carbon Footprint

Today, many electric vehicles (EVs) are marketed as a “zero emission” alternative to traditional gasoline vehicles. While EVs do not emit greenhouse-gases when driven, the manufacturing and disposal of their batteries still generate a significant carbon footprint. Despite these challenges, EVs are still considered a big step in the right direction towards a more sustainable future.

The greenhouse-gas savings for EVs far outweigh the carbon footprint from the batteries themselves, as seen in a study from the University of Michigan. With the current mix of baseload energy sources, the carbon footprint is offset within two years by driving an EV. This timeframe is expected to improve as wind and solar continue to penetrate the grid. Over 2022-2027, the International Energy Agency (IEA) expects renewables to grow “by almost 2,400 GW” and “account for over 90% of global electricity capacity expansion.” In the meantime, battery and EV makers will need to decrease their carbon footprint to advance the sustainability of EV's generally and, more acutely, to comply with an increasing regulated policy environment.

Recently, The European Union (EU) announced a plan to enhance the environmental advantage of EVs through new regulations. Starting in 2027 the EU will enforce carbon footprint thresholds for lithium-ion batteries and by 2035 batteries will be required to have a certain percentage of recycled cobalt, lead, lithium, and nickel. To prepare for the new guidelines, manufacturers will have to adopt the EU’s methodology for calculating their carbon footprint, experiment with new materials, and alter their standard production practices without sacrificing battery performance or increasing costs. One process that largely contributes to CO2 emissions is electrode coating, which requires a significant amount of energy. Additionally, “to synthesize the materials needed for production, [temperatures] between 800 to 1,000 degrees Celsius [are] needed.” These temperatures can only be reached cost-effectively by burning fossil fuels, which again adds to CO2 emissions (MIT).

All this must be considered while ramping up production to meet the rising demand for EVs. According to InsideEVs during the first 11 months of 2022 more than 8.8 million new passenger plug-in electric cars were registered globally... For reference, in the twelve months of 2021, some 6.5 million plug-in electric cars were sold.” This growth is expected to continue with EV market unit sales expected to reach over 16 million vehicles in 2027, which will only add to the pressure on manufacturers (Statista).

One way manufacturers can reduce CO2 emissions is by reconsidering their battery materials. Selecting higher energy density materials and cell designs can incrementally reduce the amount of material that is needed. Additionally, some materials themselves have a smaller carbon footprint. For example, the mining, smelting, and refining of cobalt generates over 35 Tonnes of CO2 per Tonne of metal, while silicon produces less than 5 (Elements). Selecting “lower-emission materials” and designing them into high energy density cells can reduce CO2 footprint. Silicon anode material is a great example of this because it uses low-emission material and “can boost energy density by 20% to 40%” (TechCrunch). Nanoramic’s Neocarbonix at the Core technology is an emerging solution for reducing CO2 because it enables a variety of materials like low-cost silicon and alternatives to NMC that offer a reduced carbon footprint.

Another way is to focus on reducing the CO2 footprint in the battery manufacturing process from powder to cell. For instance, the drying stage of the electrode coating process is energy intensive because of the need to remove NMP solvent from the active layer. NMP is used by battery makers to dissolve fluorinated polymer binders in conventional electrodes and is difficult to dry due to its low vapor pressure and high boiling point. Manufacturers can eliminate NMP by using Neocarbonix at the Core, which is estimated to reduce energy consumption from powder to cell by 25% . This corresponds to about 500mTonnes CO2 per year per gigafactory. Neocarbonix makes this possible by replacing fluorinated polymer binders with a 3D carbon matrix, making NMP unnecessary.

The removal of the fluorinated polymers also simplifies battery recycling by making materials more easily separated. Efforts, such as this, to streamline the battery recycling process are not only important for the growth of the recycling industry, but for CO2 reduction. This is because “the carbon emission of battery remanufacturing through recycled materials is 51.8% lower than that of battery production with raw materials” (Science Direct). Also, “the carbon footprint of the raw materials obtained by recycling electric car batteries is 38% smaller than that of virgin raw materials” (Mining.com). The growth of the recycling industry will also lead an increase of recycling plants and the accessibility of recycled materials. This will decrease CO2 emissions related to the transportation of battery materials simply because shipments will travel a shorter distance. Lastly, the accessibility of recycled materials will help manufacturers comply with future requirements for recycled content in the EU.

Overall, the road to more sustainable batteries will require innovation solutions from manufactures, but the value greatly outweighs the challenges. Whether it’s to be more environmentally conscious or simply to comply with upcoming regulations, these changes will enable EVs to have a lasting positive impact on our future.

 

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