The lithium ion (Li-ion) batteries that will be powering the electric cars of tomorrow are much greener than originally expected, according to new research conducted.
Much has been made of whether electric cars will actually be the saviour of our future, or whether they are just redistributing the environmental damage to other aspects, like the production and disposal. One of the major concerns was how the lithium ion battery would affect the environment.
In the end, the results of the study were surprising.
“Lithium-ion rechargeable batteries are not as bad as previously assumed,” according to Dominic Notter, coauthor of the study which has just been published in the scientific journal “Environmental Science & Technology”.
A team of EMPA (Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Testing and Research) scientists created a life cycle assessment of lithium ion batteries, focusing on the most commonly lithium battery used in electric cars.
What they found was that in the long run the lithium ion battery only held a 15% burden on the environment, with half of that percentage being given over to the manufacture and refinement of the battery’s raw materials, copper and aluminium. The production of the lithium on the other hand is only responsible for 2.3% of the total.
The greatest impact on the environment comes not from the car itself but rather the method with which the car is recharged, or fuelled. Charging the battery from a mixture of sources, primarily coal-fired, atomic and hydroelectric, results in three times as much pollution as from the battery alone. If the electricity generated to recharge the car is solely from coal-fired power stations the ecobalance worsens by another 13%.
The conclusions reached by the EMPA team were that a petrol fuelled car must consume between three and four litres per 100 kilometres (or 70 miles per gallon) in order to be as environmentally friendly as the electronic car studied. Additionally, alternative energy sources must be considered and implemented if the electric vehicle is to be of any substantial help in minimizing the pollution pumped into the atmosphere.