How Safe Are Electric Vehicles? Carbon Emissions of Battery Manufacturing May Outweigh Benefits

How Safe Are Electric Vehicles? Carbon Emissions of Battery Manufacturing May Outweigh Benefits

Highly efficient batteries are practically imperative in the manufacture of EVs, but recent production specifications are requiring a certain component more and more frequently: synthetic graphite. This material is invaluable in the making of smaller, more efficient batteries, but they have one huge pitfall: the most practical way to get them is to harvest them as byproducts of fossil fuel refinement. This carbon cost has put EVs’ environmental friendliness into question. Due to the manufacturing process of their batteries, EVs can be considered to cause more pollution than conventional fossil fuel vehicles. As it stands, battery production accounts for over 30 percent of the total greenhouse gas emissions of the EV industry. In the quest to fully convert the worldwide power grid to renewable energy, however, the demand for affordable batteries is on the rise.

Importance of Graphite in the Making of EVs

The Tesla Model S, one of the most recent EVs to have come on the market, has 85 kilograms of graphite in its system. Graphite, both mined and synthetic, has uniquely potent properties that make it extremely fitting for batteries, such as high conductivity and high capacity for lithium ions thanks to its layered chemical structure. These unique properties are accentuated in the synthetic variant. It’s also very difficult to find an alternative for graphite, and battery technology has no choice but to make the necessary sacrifices to use it in order to progress. The higher purity of synthetic graphite gives it a lower electrical resistance and allows it to perform more consistently. As a result, this creates the perfect set up for high-end batteries. Manufacturers mix natural and synthetic materials, varying the ratio according to the specifications of the vehicle. Hence, the split of demand between the two types was approximately 50:50 in 2018. However, new developments are beginning to favor synthetic graphite, and energy consultancy company, Wood Mackenzie expects the split to be 70:30 in favor of synthetic graphite by 2030.

 A Temporary Compromise: Transparency in Supply Chains

In light of the rapid growth of demand, the consequences of obtaining an increasing amount of synthetic graphite may become too much to handle for manufacturers. The energy cost of producing synthetic graphite far outweighs the cost of mining natural graphite. Aside from CO2 emissions, producing synthetic graphite also emits SOx, NOx, and miscellaneous particle emissions. While the industry is still trying to find alternatives to the carbon footprint generated by producing and shipping synthetic graphite, a tentative compromise was devised. This comes in the form of companies being transparent about the environmental effects of their synthetic graphite production. In addition, this compromise lessens scrutiny and opens them up to outside help in minimizing their carbon emissions.

In the transition from fossil fuels to electricity and renewable energy, there are still difficult sacrifices to be made in the future, including the well-being of the environment. As it stands, the key to eliminating fossil fuels from our power grids lies in the very process of refining fossil fuels, but that needn’t be the case forever. Once innovations in long-term battery storage and higher capacity have been achieved without the need for relying on refinery byproducts, there would be virtually nothing in the way between mankind and a sustainable power grid.

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