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March 2021

Electric cars, battery development and new habits

Simonluca Pini - Contributor Editor at Il Sole 24 Ore

Successfully overcoming the challenges of sustainable mobility lies in the ability to increase battery life, contain costs and ensure energy independence
Battery life, costs, energy independence and sustainability. These are the biggest doubts linked to the growing success of electric vehicles, with batteries – and software - becoming the heart of future zero emission scenarios. To date, limited range prevents most BEVs (Battery Electric Vehicle) to replace traditional or hybrid cars.

However, new solid-state batteries may represent a radical change, a real revolution, one that might finally create the conditions for zero emission mobility. In fact, solid-state batteries, may allow EVs to travel for up to 500 kilometres with a full charge that would take approximately ten minutes. And that's not all: thanks to the "Unified cell concept" strategy implemented by a leading German automotive group, solid-state batteries will be a reality as early as 2023 and will equip about 80% of the Group’s electric vehicles by 2030. This solution will lead, still according to the German group, to a 50% reduction in battery costs and, consequently, in the cost of electric vehicles. Another key point relates to energy self-sufficiency, "freeing" European car manufacturers from dependency on Chinese batteries. In fact, EU countries could produce enough batteries by 2025 without relying on imported cells. As EU Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic reported in late 2020: "I am confident that by 2025 the EU will be able to produce enough battery cells to meet the needs of the entire European automotive industry and build our export capacity," he told the European Battery Online Conference. Today, China accounts for about 80 percent of the world's lithium-ion cell production, but Europe's capacity is set to expand rapidly, according to the Vice President of the Commission. Currently, 15 cell factories are under construction in Europe, including Northvolt's plants in Sweden and Germany, the German facility of a Chinese company, Catl, and the South Korean company SK Innovation's second plant in Hungary. Sefcovic added that by 2025, European facilities would produce enough cells to power at least six million electric vehicles. Recently, the Volkswagen Group announced the intention to build, together with its partners, six cell factories with a total capacity of 240 gigawatt hours in Europe by the end of the decade.

Technological development, however, must not fail to take into account the all-important issue of environmental sustainability. Good news comes from a Transport&Environment (T&E) study, which places another important building block in support of a more eco-sustainable form of mobility. According to T&E, EV batteries use up fewer raw materials than combustion engines, considering the recycling process. According to the study, by 2035, more than a fifth of the lithium and 65 percent of the cobalt needed to produce a new battery may come from recycling older batteries. T&E's conclusion, therefore, is that the recycling rates set by a new European Commission legislative measure will dramatically reduce the demand for virgin raw materials, which is not likely to happen with conventional cars.

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