The recent NOAA report1 announcing that Global CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere reached 407ppm in 2018 and continue to rapidly increase, rising 25% since 1970, is a stark reminder of the urgency to take action.
Vehicle Electrification is a critical element in our response and it’s essential we focus on full lifecycle CO2 reductions.
Moving to sustainable electricity production is shifting the balance in favor of electric vehicle (EV) operation. However, there is still a lot of innovation required in the manufacturing and recycling of EV batteries.
I recently attended the International EV Battery Conference in London, a well-supported and interesting event focused on the challenges of developing cost-effective battery solutions.
There was a thought-provoking session on EV battery recycling with an informative paper by Anwar Sattar from Warwick Manufacturing Group, Warwick University that highlighted the current processes and issues.
The key take-outs from this session reminded me how much more work is required in this area, particularly in the UK.
- Unlike conventional vehicles, the cost of recycling the EV battery remains a significant on cost to the vehicle manufacturers, meaning this sizable cost is built into the cost of the vehicle, adding to the high price of these vehicles.
- Second life EV battery use, such as home or emergency backup energy storage, will only utilize a fraction of the vehicle batteries produced and after second life the battery still needs to be recycled.
- The vast majority of UK batteries are exported to mainland Europe for recycling. In exporting the EV Batteries, the UK is also shipping the high-value raw materials out of the UK, a country with little of these materials but great ambition in future EV battery manufacturing.
- Current pyrometallurgical processes for high-value metals, essentially melting out the materials, need to be replaced by lower energy and more efficient processes.
In getting to a full low carbon lifecycle, we need as much research and innovation in this area as we are putting into new product development.
Manufacturers need to look beyond their internal business innovation portfolio and consider the importance of building relationships and cooperating with adjacent businesses as part of a successful overall business strategy.
A recent demonstration of this was presented at the Product Development in Motion conference in Gothenburg by Northvolt, a business developing battery cell manufacturing in Sweden. They are partnering with multiple business in order to locally source and mine the key raw materials (e.g. Lithium, Cobalt, Nickel and Manganese) to transport materials with zero emissions and develop full recycling capability. Their aim is to attack every element of the product cycle and make it sustainable and a lower cost.
The environmental challenge is going to influence every organization and its new product development opportunities in the future. For companies to understand the full lifecycle CO2 cost of a product means looking at parts of the process that may not be internal core expertise. In this situation, working in cooperation with other organizations is a way of seeing new product opportunities, accelerating the development cycle and contributing to lower CO2 emissions.
1NOAA, "Climate Change: Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide," 19 September 2019. [Online]. Available: https://www.climate.gov/news-features/understanding-climate/climate-change-atmospheric-carbon-dioxide.