A circular economy approach is needed for electric vehicles

AJ Gonzalez | February 2, 2022

Nature Electronics, Jessika Luth Richter, Lund University, Lund, Sweden

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Electric vehicles could help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and deliver a sustainable transport system. But the full life cycle of electric vehicles needs to be considered in order to avoid creating resource issues while trying to achieve the necessary climate goals.

  1. The steel and aluminium used in the transport sector represent around 17%1 and 27%2 of the global use of these materials respectively, most of it in vehicles; and the share of plastic in vehicle compositions continues to increase, bringing with it problems related to fossil fuel feedstocks3.
  2. So far, product policies have mainly focused on hardware products, but with increased electronic integration and vehicle autonomy, software can — and should — also support circularity measures including longer lifetimes, repair and maintenance.
  3. Under idealized conditions, it has been estimated that recycling end-of-life electric vehicle batteries could provide 60% of cobalt, 53% of lithium, 57% of manganese and 53% of nickel needed globally in 204014. But we are currently far from such an ideal scenario.
  4. Distribution of value, as well as distribution of costs, also needs to be discussed when designing circular economy policies and strategies for electric vehicles.

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