Electric vehicles are supposed to save the world from the impending climate catastrophe. But the electric vehicles’ carbon dioxide balance is still not completely convincing. The lithium-ion batteries are to blame for this. Their production consumes a lot of energy. Depending on where the electricity for the production of the battery cell comes from, large amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) are produced.
One reason electric cars can have a larger carbon footprint than conventional vehicles. Heretical voices are therefore asking whether the auto industry is actually betting on the right horse with electric cars, or whether the electric cars tend to exacerbate the climate problem. The answer to this question is simple: The future of e-mobility stands and falls with the expansion of renewable energies. Because only if the batteries are produced with climate-neutral green electricity will the CO2 balance of electric vehicles improve – an opportunity for Europe to break the monopoly of Asians in the production of batteries with so-called green batteries, as the EU Commission hopes. But where do you get the green electricity for several million electric cars?
Sweden is showing the way
A silver lining can be seen high up in the north of the European Union, in the sparsely populated woodland of Sweden. In the industrial city of Skelleftea, 200 kilometers below the Arctic Circle, there is what is otherwise in short supply in Europe: cheap green electricity. It makes the city an attractive location for technologies that rely on large amounts of energy. The Northvolt company wants to produce high-voltage batteries there on a large scale using renewable energies. The start-up company’s ambitious goal: to make mobility emission-free. A battery plant is planned that is almost as big as the Tesla factory in Nevada. Battery cells with a total capacity of 32 gigawatt hours are to be built in Skelleftea. Around 600,000 electric cars could be equipped with it. Not enough if a quarter of the vehicles sold are to be equipped with an electric motor by 2025, as planned.
Made in Europe
The EU Commission has also kept an eye on Skelleftea. The EU executive envisions that Europe should become the second largest battery market after China and thus participate strongly in this future billion-dollar market, albeit with green, sustainable batteries. That is why the European Investment Bank has promised the Swedish startup company EUR 350 million in funding. Volkswagen has now entered the market with 900 million euros. By 2030, according to forecasts, the global demand for batteries will be fourteen times higher than it is now. In order to be able to satisfy this immense demand, more gigafactories must be built in the EU, demands the EU Commission. Not a problem in itself, say the experts. The battery factories could be built up quickly. Tesla is planning a battery plant in Brandenburg, the Chinese companies CATL and Svolt in Thuringia and Saarland, to name just a few examples. The all-important question is whether these factories can be supplied with enough affordable electricity from renewable sources.
Recycling increasingly important
Another potential for reducing carbon dioxide emissions is the systematic recycling of the raw materials required to build a battery. Northvolt rushes forward there too. In Skelleftea, the company is building a large-scale industrial plant for the recovery of resources. A second plant is to be built in cooperation with Norsk Hydro in Norway. The recovery of valuable materials is necessary in many ways. Because many materials in the cells are poisonous, such as cobalt, nickel and lithium. It costs a lot of money and energy to get them out of the earth. It is also important that these raw materials are often produced under inhuman conditions and without consideration for the environment – one reason why German carmakers are very interested in green batteries. BMW and VW, for example, have obliged their battery suppliers to only use green electricity.
For the graphite contained in the anodes, the goal of a significant increase in the recycling rate is, in our opinion, within reach. The Australian EcoGraf Limited (ASX: EGR, FRA: WKN: A2PW0M) e.g. has developed a cleaning process called EcoGrafTM, which has proven to be ideally suited for recovering high-purity anode material for batteries from used lithium-ion battery materials. This is the result of extensive tests that the company carried out on behalf of customers.
Occasionally it has been possible to recover up to 100% carbon content from the EcoGraf cleaning of anode scrap from lithium-ion batteries. Further positive results confirm the recovery of high purity anode material with up to 99.6% carbon from a range of “black matter” materials from recycled lithium-ion batteries at the end of their life. The results show the potential for reusing reclaimed high purity battery anode material in higher priced industrial markets for natural and synthetic graphite. (For further information, click here.)
Transport generates a fifth of CO2 emissions
Even if the carbon dioxide emissions in battery production are already significantly lower than a few years ago, the ecological balance must be improved so that the environmental impact of the greenhouse gas CO2 is further reduced. Traffic still generates just under a fifth of CO2 emissions. And also: if the electric car is to be accepted by consumers, then electromobility has to get rid of its reputation for not being sustainable enough.
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