How to achieve carbon neutrality and a circular economy for EV batteries 

Forest Road

The costs of an electrified transportation revolution contain a variety of supply chain concerns.  From a sustainability perspective, the success of e-vehicles depends on three main factors: the carbon intensity of the manufacturing process, the carbon intensity of the electricity used to charge the battery while the vehicle is in use, and what happens to the battery at the end of its "first" life. Here we focus on the first and third factors. 

 

Electric vehicles (EVs) are identified as key in the shift to a low-carbon economy. The extraction and production of raw materials in their batteries can yield as much carbon as having tailpipe emissions. There are hidden costs of the green transportation revolution that are not entirely considered in the adaptation of electric vehicles. The recycling of the battery components are also unidentified in this case.  

How can new technologies and battery passports help?  

S&P Global Market Intelligence data reported that with EV sales expected to increase, global battery demand could rise over fivefold between 2020 and 2025. EVs require about six times more minerals than cars with internal combustion engines, meaning the use of lithium, cobalt, nickel, and other metals to produce EV batteries will increase. Labour rights issues in the global supply chain and the transportation of raw materials, which cause a significant number of emissions are problems that must be tackled. The World Economic Forum (WEF) found that eight supply chains produce 50 percent of the world’s emissions which means we cannot achieve our global climate targets without transforming our supply chains. We must move from carbon-intensive supply chains to achieving our net-zero goals and become more ethical and greener. 

 

Achieving supply-chain decarbonization goals 

To reduce CO2 emissions from companies operating internationally, relevant data collected along the entire supply chain is critical. At Circulor, we provide one of the most complete and mature solutions, working with technologies such as blockchain, machine learning and artificial intelligence that are globally disrupting the industry. “Unlike other traceability solutions, we track the actual material as it flows through the supply chain, not just the transactions between participants. This means, we are able to aggregate emissions at each supply chain step, creating accurate and insightful information about the embedded CO2,” Circulor CEO and Founder Douglas Johnson-Poensgen explained.  

 

We are working with Britishvolt, a lithium-ion battery producer based in the UK to track their supply chains and emissions from the building materials of their factory to end-of-life disposal and/or reuse of battery materials. This 20+-year project is the first of its kind in tracking not only the supply chains for the batteries but the construction and maintenance of the facility as well as the related economic development impact on the local area. New technologies allow supply chains to be more sustainable and ethical.  

To successfully achieve net-zero we must incorporate a fully functioning circular economy. The International Energy Agency found that the shift to electric mobility could create 12 Million tonnes of battery waste between now and 2030. To make electromobility sustainable, compliance with social and ecological standards in the extraction of important raw materials must play just as important a role as their recycling. In order to achieve climate goals, we must combine traceability and circularity.  

 

It is key to extend the life of products such as batteries by designing waste out of systems. This will allow for recovery and reuse, thus reducing waste. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation estimated, in a recent paper, that 45 per cent of the emissions needed for net-zero can be reduced through the pursuit of circularity. Combining traceability and circularity contributes to achieving climate goals. Traceability allows a whole new level of business decision-making and product innovation, as it enables collaboration and provides visibility of exact material volumes coming to market.  

 

Tracking the environmental and human rights impact of EV batteries  

Recent EU proposals for the introduction of a ‘battery passport’ will drive the focus on decarbonization, circularity, and the need for provenance data. The latest EU Battery Regulation includes a call for every battery to have a digital identity or ‘passport.’ When enacted, the regulation is expected to be set precedence worldwide. It will require environmental, ethical, and sustainable standards to be met for all batteries manufactured in or placed in service in the EU market. To prove that we take care of our people, planet and resources, we must implement the ‘battery passport.’  

 

The battery passport can be viewed as a vital digital passport that provides reliable information and data on every life stage of the battery. The digital tool is expected to track the management of social and environmental risks in an EV battery’s life and producers should prepare for it now. Circulor's Battery Passport Management System is a solution for companies to prepare for the future requirements of legislators and consumers. Circulor’s Johnson-Poensgen said, “those that manage to quickly demonstrate verified sustainable practices here will soon have a clear advantage.”