The Future of Electric Vehicles
This blog contains information from a recent AXIOS webinar about sustainable transportation and electric vehicles. The webinar can be watched here.
EV. Tesla. Elon Musk. Charging station. These words have become mainstream, household names and phrases in the past few years as the market for electric vehicles has grown exponentially.
In 2016, global electric vehicles sales were just shy of 1 million vehicles. In 2020, around 3 million electric vehicles were sold globally, with that number expected to grow to 5.6 million by the end of 2021. This market has grown in response to sustainability concerns with traditional combustion vehicles, as well as a need for renewable and rechargeable energy sources.
However, electric vehicle production still has room for improvement before it can be called the answer to our prayers for sustainable energy.
For example, raw materials for electric vehicle batteries largely don't originate from the U.S. A ranking by Mining.com of the "Top 25 nations producing battery metals for the EV supply chain" reveals that China takes the lead with 80% of global refining capacity for raw battery materials. Australia follows, and then next is Brazil.
According to JB Straubel, Co-founder and CEO of Redwood Materials and Co-founder and former CTO of Tesla, there are certain risks with having such a major dependency on foreign materials, such as geopolitical, supply chain, and the impacts of global transportation.
This is where a “circular supply chain” presents a critical opportunity for sustainability. The metals in a battery don't degrade after use, but rather, can be refined and re-purified to fulfill the same or a new function. A circular supply chain essentially links the end of life for a product back to the beginning. This means that domestic recycling of end-of-life-batteries can help us circle those materials back into new materials manufacturing. After all, the goal should be to not create more or new environmental problems in the process of trying to solve other ones.
According to Randy Stone, President of Mobility and Materials at DuPont, the plastics industry also plays an important role in electric vehicle sustainability. Replacing heavier metals with plastics improves fuel efficiency, which improves sustainability. Plastic materials are important for heat shielding and preventing battery fires, but also for safety, as plastic is generally better at absorbing energy in a crash.
Both Stone and U.S. Sen. Angus King (I-ME) agree that certain policies would help move the electric vehicle industry along. Policies for building up charging infrastructure, local manufacturing, and energy storage are critical in this effort.
Despite these challenges, there are still reasons to remain optimistic and continue investing as a nation in the electric vehicle market. For example, Tesla has shown the world how feasible it is to manufacture in America.
It’s also important to remember that this is a major transition for the transportation industry, as internal combustion vehicles have been in use for a hundred years. This path won't be quick and easy, but it’s certainly a necessary one for addressing climate change, and the infrastructure will surely get there.