New research recently published by Europe’s leading clean transport campaign group, Transport & Environment (T&E), suggests that solid-state batteries (SSBs) could reduce the carbon footprint of electric vehicles (EVs) by 39%. The results are so encouraging that many industry experts have started calling SSBs the next generation of battery technology for EVs.
The significant difference between conventional Lithium batteries and SSBs is the electrolyte. In SSBs, a solid electrolyte is used instead of a liquid one. While benefits of SSBs like increased safety, longer driving range (due to higher energy density), faster charging times and, eventually, lower costs are already known, this is the first time an attempt has been made to analyze their environmental impact compared to conventional Lithium-ion batteries. The report compares the global warming potential of SSBs with the most popular current lithium-ion chemistries: nickel-manganese-cobalt (NMC) and lithium iron phosphate (LFP).
The study reports SSBs to have 24% lower global warming potential (GWP) than NMC batteries. It is worth noting that this GWP can further be reduced to 39% if sustainable materials are used in SSBs. These reductions will increase marginally if we compare SSBs with LFP batteries, as seen in the graph. The report further stated that extraction of lithium directly from geothermal wells and brine-derived lithium could significantly lower the emissions.
The report marks the importance of sustainability of battery supply chains and processes used for reaping the benefits associated with using SSBs. Besides this, the piece is also cynical about the supply of lithium meeting the demands that will be significantly ramped up by the use of SSBs towards the end of the decade. Thus reports suggest EV makers enter into innovative procurement strategies with long-term contracts instead of reacting to volatile markets. Also, direct procurement of raw materials will further give manufacturers an idea about the environmental and human rights conditions under which materials are extracted.
While report outcomes are encouraging but will be meaningful only when the SSBs are used in large-scale EV production. Optimistically speaking, this will take another 7-8 years minimum.