The UK Government has introduced ambitious targets for at least 50% – and as many as 70% – of new car sales to be ultra-low emission by 2030. They describe this as the ‘least cost pathway’ to the 2050 net zero greenhouse gas emission target which they announced in June 20191.
The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has recommended that the market for electric vehicles – EVs – be 100% by 2035 at the latest to meet the new 2050 net zero target1.
Throughout Europe similar targets have been set as part of the European Green Deal.
Professor Robert Lee of the University of Birmingham, a lawyer attached to the Faraday Institution research work on electric vehicle batteries2, commented:
“The move to electric mobility not only reduces greenhouse gas emissions but will have a beneficial effect on urban air quality, a pressing problem in many parts of the World.”
Charging points are just one piece of the puzzle
One of the most widely discussed barriers to this measure is the lack of charging points available and the logistics surrounding keeping EV’s topped up as we travel.
To meet these targets EV drivers need to be able to charge their vehicles at home, whether that is via a private or on street charger and on the move at charging stations or other public charging points. This requires a huge shift in consumer behaviour and people need to gain confidence in the electric vehicle market as a whole.
A large part of this confidence can be gained by improvements to the charging infrastructure. According to a report by campaign group Transport and Environment (T&E) 3 million public charging points will have to be available by 2030 in order to sustain the rise in electric vehicles needed for Europe’s long-term climate objectives3.
It is clear we have a long way to go to go in the next 10 years: currently in the UK there are 31,476 charging connectors at 11,274 locations – the majority (25%) of these are in Greater London4.
But building a robust charging infrastructure, although a significant challenge, is by no means the only consideration for achieving the 2030 targets.
Lifecycle of EV batteries
Almost all EV batteries are warranted for 8 years and 100,000 miles5 – but what happens to them at the end of their life?
According to a 2019 research paper co-written by the University of Birmingham, “Electrification of just 2% of the current global car fleet would represent a line of cars that could stretch around the circumference of the Earth – some 140 million vehicles6. That’s a lot of redundant batteries a few years down the line.
The answer is to re-use and recycle.
According to the same 2019 paper, “in the waste management hierarchy, re-use is considered preferable to recycling, in order to extract maximum economic value and minimize environmental impacts. Many companies in various parts of the world are already piloting the second use of electric-vehicle LIBs for a range of energy storage applications. Advanced sensors and improved methods of monitoring batteries in the field and end-of-life testing would enable the characteristics of individual end-of-life batteries to be better matched to proposed second-use applications. Even if all the benefits of second-use are realized, however, it must be remembered that recycling (if not landfill) is the inevitable fate of all batteries.”6
Recycling plants – where they dismantle the batteries for useable elements – are currently few and far between, and the process of handling hazardous materials can be risky. However, we are seeing an increase in recycling plants to meet growing demand.
Belgium-based metals producer and recycler Umicore has a pilot plant in Belgium, which can recycle up to 7,000 tons/year of lithium batteries to extract lithium, cobalt, nickel, copper and rare earths and VW plans to open a pilot recycling plant in 2020 in Germany with capacity of 1,200 tons/year.
However, although battery metals recycling is scaling up, it is not expected to alleviate tightening raw material supply [caused by the increase demand for EV’s] until the late 2020s7.
Safety and training
Professor Robert Lee, Programme Director for the Online LLM in Energy and Environmental Law, works with The Faraday Institution8, who are the UK’s independent institute for electrochemical energy storage research. As part of their work, they have begun to consider the impact the increase in EV’s will have on other industries and the skills that will be needed to support this transition.
According to an Insight Report recently published by the Faraday Institution “Fire, police, ambulance, and service personnel will need new skills to handle EV accidents and repair to ensure the safety of themselves and others. The number of those workers who need reskilling is substantial and resources are needed to support sector skills councils and providers for regional delivery of accredited courses…to deal with emergencies involving EVs”.
Mechanics and car sales personnel will also need additional training.
“For vehicle mechanics, this includes how to repair a high-voltage vehicle, conduct diagnostic testing, and to replace a battery safely. Retail sales personnel will need to have awareness of how EVs function and to identify hazards and risks in order to pass this information on to the consumer. Actions to raise awareness and deliver specific training are needed now if we are to meet the electrification challenge as the number of EVs on the road increases”9.
Professor Lee comments: “Because the switch to electric vehicles is gradual and since a battery pack may last eight to ten years, it will take time to build up a sufficient quantity of batteries to feed a recycling plant. As yet the UK has no recycling facility but if we wait until there is the necessary volume to justify running a facility, we could end up with a large quanitiy of degrading batteries of questionable safety once discharged.”
Will we have the infrastructure in place to meet the 2030 targets?
Our Online LLM in Energy and Environmental Law covers topics including renewable energy and climate change. Programme Director, Professor Robert Lee is also part of a team on electric mobility in the UK. If you are interested in returning to study via distance learning, please fill out our request for information form or contact a member of our Admissions Team.
- HURST, D (2020) House of Commons Library Briefing Paper: Electric vehicles and infrastructure [Online] Available at: http://researchbriefings.files.parliament.uk/documents/CBP-7480/CBP-7480.pdf [Accessed 24.03.20]
- The Faraday Institution (2020) The Faraday Institution Reuse and Recycling of Litium Ion Batteries (Online) Available at: <https://relib.org.uk/> [Accessed 28.04.20]
- SIMON, F (2020) Massive rise in EV charging points needed to reach EU climate goals, analysis finds [Online] Available at: <https://www.euractiv.com/section/electric-cars/news/massive-rise-in-ev-charging-points-needed-to-reach-eu-climate-goals-new-research-finds/> [Accessed 24.03.20]
- UNKNOWN (2020) Charging point statistics 2020(Online) Available at: <https://www.zap-map.com/statistics/> [Accessed 24.03.20]
- UNKNOWN (2019) Just How Long Will An EV Battery Last? (Online) Available at: <https://insideevs.com/news/368591/electric-car-battery-lifespan/> [Accessed 24.03.20]
- Harper, G et al. (2019) Recycling lithium-ion batteries from electric vehicles (online) Available at: <https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-019-1682-5> [Accessed 24.03.20]
- UNKNOWN (2019) EV battery recycling to start scaling up by 2025 (Online) Available at: <https://www.argusmedia.com/en/news/1870269-ev-battery-recycling-to-start-scaling-up-by-2025> [Accessed 24.03.20]
- The Faraday Institution (2020) The Faraday Institution (Online) Available at: <https://faraday.ac.uk/> [Accessed 28.04.20]
- UNKNOWN (2019) Electric Vehicle and Battery Safety Skills for Emergency Services, Vehicle Repair, and Auto Retailers (Online) Available at: <https://faraday.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Faraday_Insights_4.pdf> [Accessed 24.03.20]