Electric cars will need to be smaller with shorter ranges and people will need to take fewer private road trips to alleviate the inevitable surge in demand for critical metals when transitioning to battery-powered vehicles, according to a new report.
Here are some of the recommendations outlined by a group of green transportation experts as part of a study looking at moderating consumption of key metals needed for electric vehicle (EV) batteries.
It says that the use of the three main critical metals, namely lithium, nickel and cobalt, could be nearly halved by 2050, although this depends on manufacturers no longer producing hulking SUVs.
And it has called on governments to introduce ‘weight-based taxes’ on the biggest and heaviest engines.
Transport & Environment says the trend towards bigger and heavier electric SUVs must be halted to reduce demand on the electric grid now and in the future.
Brussels-based Transport & Environment published this week its new report ‘Clean and efficient: the demand for battery metals from the electrification of passenger transport‘.
He estimates that Europe and the UK can use a number of options to curb demand for key metals by up to 49 percent by mid-century, the government’s target date for achieving carbon neutrality.
However, the biggest reduction in metal demand will come if manufacturers produce more compact vehicles with smaller batteries, he says.
Today’s lithium-ion EV batteries rely on metal to charge and discharge and contain nickel in the cathodes to provide high energy density, allowing vehicles to travel farther on a single charge.
Cobalt is also used to ensure that the cathodes do not easily overheat or catch fire, and helps extend the life of batteries, which manufacturers typically guarantee eight to ten years.
The need for battery feedstock will inevitably increase as we get closer to the 2030 ban on new combustion engine cars and trucks and will grow dramatically thereafter.
Between now and 2050, the group predicts that Europe as a whole will require 200 times the raw materials for batteries that were consumed last year.
The report estimates that a shift from huge electric SUVs to smaller cars (like the Smart EQ ForTwo pictured) could reduce critical metal demand by 19-23%.
The T&E report showed the impact ‘aggressive innovations’ including fewer trips, smaller electric vehicles and more advanced batteries could have in reducing consumption of key metals.
As such, T&E says the UK government must “take action to reduce the size of batteries and cars”, which it describes as “the most effective measure to reduce demand for metals”.
and describes making smaller electric vehicles as “the most effective way to reduce demand for the metals.”
It says that moving away from huge electric SUVs like the Audi Q8 e-tron and Mercedes EQS could cut critical demand for metals by 19 to 23 percent.
These larger models currently dominate electric car sales in Britain. In fact, they accounted for more than two in five (44 percent) of all new electric vehicles sold in 2022.
“This trend towards larger and heavier vehicles must be halted in order to reduce embedded emissions from vehicle production and reduce demand on the electricity grid,” the think tank said.
He has called on lawmakers to introduce a new ‘weight-based tax’ on heavier and larger vehicles and subsidies. for smaller electric cars.
Ralph Palmer, T&E UK Electric Vehicles and Fleet Officer, said: “Electric vehicles are essential to achieving the UK’s net zero emissions and climate targets. But the growing popularity of big cars across the country could send us off track.
“Here, smaller will mean smarter, giving us economic and industrial policy that aligns with a livable planet.”
The document recommends the introduction of a new ‘weight-based tax’ on the largest and heaviest vehicles and subsidies for smaller electric cars. Pictured: An Audi and Jaguar SUV at public charging points
The Brussels think tank describes making smaller EVs with more compact batteries as “the most effective way to reduce demand for key metals”, reducing consumption by 19-23% by 2050.
In addition to smaller vehicles, T&E estimates that people reducing private car travel can lead to an additional 7 to 9 percent reduction in demand for raw materials.
His proposed measures include a review of road construction programs and the introduction of low-traffic neighborhood schemes that ‘to rebalance the space granted to private cars compared to public transport, pedestrians and cyclists”.
Palmer adds: ‘Both nationally and locally, the UK does everything it can to prioritize the private car. Whether it’s allocating more space for cars, building more roads, or cutting funding for public transportation, the car is king.
“This has created a downward spiral of car dependency, with ever larger cars seen as the only solution for getting around.
‘What we have to do is tip the balance backwards in favor of people and public transport. Then we will have a transport sector that leads the world in the fight against climate change”.
The report also claims lifetime emissions from battery electric cars are “significantly lower” than those running on fossil fuels.
Even after accounting for manufacturing and the raw materials used in manufacturing, T&E claims that electric vehicles emit 69 percent less.
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