Original publication: February 2018
Authors: Marc Thomas [Part 1]
NTNU: Linda Ager-Wick ELLINGSEN, Christine Roxanne HUNG, Project manager: Anders Hammer STRØMMAN [Part 2]
Short link to this post: http://bit.ly/2HDKk0y
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Battery-powered electric vehicles: market development and lifecycle emissions

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PART 1: The development of battery–powered road vehicles market


At the end of 2016, there were just over 2 million electric cars[2] in the world. This was less than 0.2% of the global car fleet[3], but this level was achieved in about seven years (the sales of electric vehicles before 2010 are considered insignificant).




Figure 1. Global stock of electric cars (M1+N1), by year (BEV+PHEV)

In 2016, over 780,000 new electric cars were registered worldwide (of which 62% battery-electric vehicles[4]). Annual sales growth, however, dropped below 50% for the first time (+37% compared to 2015), the growth rate being on a downward trend since 2011.

Figure 2. Global sales of electric cars (M1+N1), by year (BEV and PHEV)

The marketplace is highly concentrated. Together, the five largest markets accounted for 93% of 2016 global sales of electric cars. The same also accounted for almost 94% of the world’s fleet of such vehicles. Furthermore, according to the International Council on Clean Transportation, nearly a third of global electric vehicle sales would be in just 14 metropolitan areas[5]. Since 2015, China is by far the main sales place for electric cars, followed by the EU and the US.

Figure 3. Global sales of electric cars (M1+N1), by year (BEV and PHEV)

Figure 4. Global stock of electric cars (M1+N1) in 2016, by volume and market share (Total BEV + PHEV ≈ 2,100,000)

Electric cars represent a tiny fraction of car sales. In 2016, this fraction was above 1% only in Norway (29% of car sales), in China (1.4%) and, by a narrow margin, in the EU (1.1%). In 2017, it reached 1.35% in the EU[6].

Globally, battery electric cars dominate the market (around 61% of world electric car stock at the end of 2016). In 2016, this was the case in China (75%), Norway (74%), Japan (57%) and the USA (52%). In the EU, BEV and PHEV are at the same level, but the situation differs greatly between Member States.

The number of fuel cell vehicles is still very negligible[7]. Similarly, heavy electric vehicles are still rare. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), there were around 345,000 electric buses in the world (mainly BEV) at the end of 2016. Almost all of them were in China (343,500), about 1,200 were registered in the EU (M2 and M3 categories – this number rose to just over 1,500 in 2017) and 200 in the United States. So far, the number of electric heavy-goods vehicle is derisory.

It is worth mentioning that there are significant data classification issues for buses and coaches. There are also no precise classifications/figures for “low-speed electric vehicles”, “two-wheelers” and “three-wheelers” – for which international comparisons are unreliable. Moreover, it is impossible to know precisely the global number of electric bicycles (e-bikes): while most of them are made in China, in general importing countries (including the EU, the US and Japan) do not distinguish them from their imports of conventional bicycles. In addition, the lifetime of e-bikes in circulation is unknown.

According to the IEA, 200 to 230 million electric two-wheelers were in circulation in China in 2016 – this country being, by far, the world leader. In the same year, the European Alternative Fuel Observatory listed about 14,000 electric motorbikes (categories L1 to L5) in the EU (this number rose to approximately 18,000 in 2017).

Identically, China dominates the market of low-speed electric vehicles. It is estimated that three to four million units were in circulation in this country in 2016, compared to around 20,000 in the EU (categories L6 and L7 – this number rose to about 21,000 in 2017).

China also strongly leads on the electric bike market. The most reliable estimates say that, in 2016, there were around 250 million e-bikes (all types) in circulation in the country, and 30 million new electric bicycles are expected to be sold there every year. In the EU, 8.2 million e-bikes (all types) were sold between 2006 to 2016. In Japan (where e-bikes emerged in the early 1980s and, unlike other markets, local production largely outweighs imports) 550,000 e-bikes were sold in 2016, but the national stock of electric bike cannot be accurately assessed. The US situation is equally unclear. While all e-bikes or parts thereof are imported from China, the absence of a specific customs code makes these imports difficult to identify. The highest estimates say that between 211,000 and 251,000 e-bikes were sold throughout the country in 2016. On the other hand, a study by the consultancy NAVIGANT estimates this number to be little more than 137,000[8].

[1] Sources: For the EU and Norway: European Alternative Fuel Observatory and EC, Joint Research Centre, Electric vehicles in the EU from 2010 to 2014. For the USA: Hybridcars and Electric Drive Transportation Association. For China, Japan and the rest of the world: International Energy Agency, Global electric vehicles outlook 2017.

[2] “Cars” means passenger cars, including pickups and vans, and light commercial vehicles (LCV). Vehicles currently on the market match EU categories M1 and N1. The categories of vehicles are those defined by Directive 2007/46/EC and Regulation EU No 168/2013.

[3] According to the International Organization of Motor Vehicle Manufacturers (OICA), there were around 1.3 billion (passenger and commercial) vehicles in use in the world at the end of 2016 (including heavy trucks, coaches and buses).

[4] Battery-electric vehicles (BEV) derive their power only from their rechargeable battery packs. Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV) derive their power from their rechargeable battery packs and from an internal combustion engine.

[5] ICCT, Electric vehicle capitals of the world (March 2017). Namely, in descending electric vehicle share: Oslo, Utrecht, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Amsterdam, San Jose, San Francisco, Copenhagen, Beijing, Stockholm, Zürich, Los Angeles, Paris and London.

[6] Based on 16.6 million new vehicles registered in the EU in 2016, and 17.1 million in 2017 (categories M1 and N1). Source: European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (ACEA). In 2017, this share reached a peak of 32.4% in Norway.

[7] Fuel cell vehicles use a fuel cell to generate electricity to power their electric motor.

[8] NAVIGANT; electric bicycles

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PART 2: Resources, energy, and lifecycle greenhouse gas emission aspects of electric vehicles

Battery electric vehicles with lithium-ion traction batteries

Fully battery electric vehicles (BEVs) have repeatedly been considered a promising alternative to conventional internal combustion engine vehicles (ICEVs), but have only recently attracted wider consumer interest and gained acceptance due to progress in battery technology. As a result of their higher gravimetric energy density, lithium-ion traction batteries permit longer driving ranges than other battery technologies. They are therefore the battery of choice for automobile manufacturers.

Battery production

Battery production can be subdivided into cell manufacture and pack assembly. Cell manufacture is a complex and protracted process with stringent requirements in relation to ambient indoor conditions and cleanliness in building zones as well as a high demand for energy. Current battery cell manufacture primarily takes place in South Korea, Japan, and China. In comparison to cell manufacture, pack assembly is a far less complex and energy‑intensive process. The battery packs are either assembled by a cell manufacturer and then delivered to the automobile manufacturer or are assembled by the automobile manufacturers themselves.

Mineral use, supply risks and recycling

Lithium-ion traction batteries are complex products containing a variety of materials, some of which are or may become susceptible to supply risk. Minerals that are particularly susceptible to supply risk in producing current lithium-ion traction batteries are: lithium (Li), aluminium (Al), manganese (Mn), iron (Fe), cobalt (Co), nickel (Ni), copper (Cu), and graphite (C). Lithium and cobalt are likely to be susceptible to the highest supply risk, while aluminium involves the lowest risk. Manganese, iron, nickel, copper, and natural graphite have medium supply risk. The improvement of recovery processes for these elements at the vehicle’s end-of-life can, to some degree, alleviate these supply risks. As we move from fuel‑intensive ICEVs to materials‑intensive BEVs, it becomes increasingly important to have efficient recycling processes in place to ensure the optimal recovery of finite minerals as well as energy- and pollution-intensive materials.

Lifecycle emissions of battery electric vehicles

In order for BEVs to provide a climate change mitigation alternative to ICEVs, they must have lower lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions. The BEV production phase is more carbon‑intensive than that of ICEVs, but BEVs can compensate for the higher production emissions through lower use phase emissions. The carbon intensity of the electricity consumed in the operation phase greatly influences the advantages – or disadvantages – of adopting BEVs in preference to ICEVs. Charging BEVs with electricity from renewable energy sources offers significantly lower lifecycle emissions compared to ICEVs. In contrast, BEVs charged using coal-based electricity yields higher lifecycle emissions than ICEVs. Thus the potential climate benefits of BEVs compared to ICEVs cannot be harnessed everywhere and under all conditions. Lifecycle assessment studies consistently report moderate climate benefits for BEVs powered by the average European electricity mix compared to ICEVs of a similar size.

Regardless of powertrain configuration, smaller vehicles tend to be more energy efficient during operation and generally have lower GHG emissions than larger ones. The trend towards increasing the size and range of BEVs is unfavourable from both a climate mitigation and resource use perspective. Thus, given the current state of the technology, striking the right balance between battery and vehicle size and charging infrastructure is important in maximising the climate change mitigation potential of BEVs.

The climate benefit of BEVs compared to ICEVs is expected to increase in the near future due to changes in the European power sector and developments within cell manufacturing. The expected decarbonisation of the European power sector should lead to an increase in the environmental benefits of BEV use over time, particularly from a climate change perspective. Decarbonisation of the electricity mix in cell-manufacturing countries would, furthermore, be beneficial in terms of the battery production process. The most significant change in cell manufacture in the near future is the large production volume of cells expected from Tesla Gigafactory 1, which claims to be self-sufficient in renewable energy. Consequently, GHG emissions from both production and use are expected to decrease in the coming years.

Achieving the goal of more sustainable transport solutions requires good environmental understanding of our technologies. Battery producers and recyclers have to be more transparent about the environmental implications of their product lines. An open channel of communication between industry, government and researchers is essential if BEVs are to succeed as a climate change mitigation initiative within the transport sector.

Link to the full study: http://bit.ly/617-457

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Walther Ploos van Amstel · March 12, 2018 at 11:05 am

The link to the report is broken

    kingaostanska · March 12, 2018 at 11:11 am

    Thank you! We fixed the link so read on.

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