Smaller EVs are key to save critical minerals: Study

By making smaller electric vehicles that are powered by small batteries, Europe can curb consumption of critical metals by up to 49% by 2050

By Madhumita Paul
Published: Thursday 20 July 2023
Representative image: iStock.

Vehicles that use smaller batteries could significantly slash Europe’s electric vehicle (EV) sector’s dependency on critical minerals, suggested a new analysis.

At least 30 million zero-emission electric vehicles are forecast to be on Europe’s roads by 2030, estimated the document published by Transport and Environment, a European coalition of nonprofits working on sustainable transport.

As the continent races to switch to zero-emissions road transport, it will see a drastic rise in demand for battery raw materials. While fleet electrification is important to flatten the greenhouse gas emission curve, massive exploration of critical minerals can threaten the environment. This challenge can be addressed by promoting smaller batteries, noted the analysis published in July 2023.

Also read: India’s decision to allow private players to mine lithium, other critical minerals step towards self-reliance in clean energy

Shifting to smaller batteries can be achieved by adopting batteries with shorter ranges while maintaining the car size constant or downsizing the vehicles themselves. When considering other materials such as steel and aluminium, downsizing vehicles is the best strategy to save valuable resources. This approach optimises resource utilisation and offers social benefits in terms of affordability for consumers.

By making smaller electric vehicles that are powered by small batteries, Europe can curb consumption of critical metals by up to 49 per cent by 2050. The researchers urged governments to intervene and reduce battery and car sizes, the most effective measure to reduce metals demand.

They analysed three scenarios — business as usual, accelerated and aggressive — to forecast the demand for battery raw materials, notably lithium, nickel, cobalt and manganese, by 2050. The demand for raw materials is estimated to see a surge in all three scenarios, with annual volumes in 2050 to be four-10 times higher than in 2023. 

Also read: Shift to clean energy means race for minerals is accelerating

Moreover, the cumulative demand is estimated to increase up to 200 times higher than the 2022 EV battery consumption, found the analysis. In the long term, additional mining will be necessary to meet Europe’s growing demand for raw materials in all scenarios.

While there are enough reserves to meet the current energy needs of Europe, the challenge lies in extracting and processing in a socially and environmentally responsible manner. The European Parliament passed groundbreaking legislation in June, setting environmental protections throughout the entire life cycle of batteries — from sourcing raw materials and production to recycling.

The study also recommended a quick ramping up of electric vehicle sales with a focus on smaller affordable segments, charging and accelerating the electrification of corporate and urban fleets. Governments should also promote public and shared transport and active travel, it added.

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