What is the Environmental Impact of Lithium Batteries?

Although electric vehicles are emission-free they still cause a climate impact which derives from the manufacturing of the car and not least the battery.

Electric cars are moved by lithium batteries and their production entails high CO2 emissions.

The cost of lithium batteries is around 73 kg CO2-equivalent/kWh (Figure 1). Production of a single battery with a range of 40 kWh (e.g. Nissan Leaf) and 100 kWh (e.g. Tesla) emit 2920 kg and 7300 kg of CO2, respectively.

A lithium-ion battery can be divided into three main components: the cells, which contain the active materials, the battery management system, and the pack, which is the structure the cells are mounted in.

Aluminium is important for the pack component (for its light weight) but is a very energy-intensive material, representing 17% of the total battery’s carbon footprint (12.4 kg CO2/kWh – Figure 1).

The cells represent the majority of the energy and carbon footprint of the production of lithium battery. Specifically, 40% of the total climate impact of the battery comes from the from mining, conversion and refining step of the active materials of cells where Nickel, Manganese, Cobalt (NCM) and lithium are processed into cathode powder (NCM Powder- 28.5 kg CO2/kWh – Figure 1).

The actual cell production is the second most energy-demanding activity and represents 20% of the total CO2/kWh (14 kg CO2/kWh – Figure 1). This number is highly dependent on the plant’s capacity as many of the energy-intensive activities in cell production relate to drying and heating which is taking place in large rooms where the energy used remains the same no matter if one or several thousands of cells are in production.

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