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The benefits of electric vehicles (EVs) have grown more evident in recent years, from greater fuel economy to significantly reduced transportation emissions. Although the future of these cars is bright, improvements are necessary for a broader transition to electric transport. Lithium-ion batteries are perhaps the most critical components of EVs, enabling these cars to operate efficiently. However, in an industry that faces materials shortages, domineering markets and ineffective waste management, the only path forward is to find better solutions to EV batteries.
If there’s ever been a time to transition to electric vehicles, it’s now. Amid inflation and recent oil sanctions on Russia, the United States has felt the pangs of rising gas prices. The current average is about $4.60 per gallon at the pump nationwide and might climb again in the fall.
The U.S. transportation sector comprises 30% of U.S. energy and accounts for 70% of the nation’s petroleum consumption. Thanks to current hybrid and EV alternatives, the U.S. has diversified its transportation energy outputs in a more energy-secure, budget-friendly manner.
According to one study by the University of Michigan, it costs less than half as much to operate electric cars as conventional ones. For instance, consumers spend about $495 annually to drive EVs, while gas-powered vehicles cost nearly $1,117.
Of course, there are plenty of opportunities for the wider-spread use of EVs. For one thing, lithium-ion batteries are now 30 times cheaper than they were when first introduced in the 1990s. Since these battery costs could decrease another 20% in 2023, experts believe EVs could reach a comparable market price to conventional cars by the mid-2020s.
Like anything else, EVs aren’t perfect. Battery technology has to improve before people can efficiently and quickly adopt electric-powered cars as their primary transportation.
Electric cars are inoperable without their batteries. However, recent battery shortages have proven challenging for the industry to out-manufacture combustion-engine vehicles. Part of the challenge is obtaining enough raw materials — lithium, manganese, cobalt and nickel — to ramp up the production of lithium-ion batteries.
Battery cells contain cathodes and anodes — a charge’s positive and negative electrodes. While manufacturers are currently making strides to improve cathodes, limiting the need for cobalt and nickel, anodes pose a significant supply chain issue.
China dominates the EV battery industry in terms of production and availability of every required material for lithium-ion battery cells. The country monopolizes 79% and 89% of lithium-ion cell and anode production worldwide. Additionally, the country processes and purifies 57% of the world’s lithium. That’s in addition to 93% of manganese, 68% of nickel and 73% of cobalt. It also retains 99.99% of the world’s pure graphite — perhaps the most crucial element in EV battery cells.
The question of how to catch up to China’s electric battery supply chain has hindered EV industry growth in America. While the U.S. boasts a cleaner, low-cost power source — lithium mining is not precisely environmentally-friendly. It’s not enough without a streamlined strategy to address raw material shortages and boost production.
According to Stellantis Chief Executive Officer Carlos Tavares, the auto industry will mostly feel the effects of an EV battery shortage in 2024 and 2025. Battery disposal is a secondary problem the industry needs to address. Most lithium-ion batteries last between 10 and 20 years, and federal manufacturing warranties now guarantee eight years or 100,000 miles of usage.
When EV batteries operate at 70% of their capacity — the beginning of their end lifecycle — some manufacturers transport the batteries to facilities where they’re given a second life or broken down for the remaining materials. However, this isn’t always the case.
At this rate, experts estimate more than 3.4 million EV batteries will clog landfills and stockpiles by 2025, where they’re a fire hazard and contaminate natural resources. Unfortunately, today’s electric car batteries are not recyclable due to their toxic components.
Automakers are attempting to find a solution to increase battery life even longer and use less hazardous materials. Some startups have replaced graphite with silicon anodes that can hold a charge ten times longer than current batteries. While this is undoubtedly a step in the right direction, it’s only in the beginning stages of development.
A transition to electric vehicles can help people significantly reduce their transportation emissions. However, Better battery solutions can pave the way for the broader use of EVs. As global warming increases, developing more advanced EV battery technologies is critical.
Jane is the Editor-in-Chief of Environment.co and an environmental writer covering green technology, sustainability and environmental news.
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