Li-ion Batteries Greener than Believed

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"Study finds batteries don't negate advantages of electric vehicles."

Researchers at Empa have made a detailed life cycle assessment (LCA) or ecobalance of lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries, in particular those used in electric vehicles.

The investigation shows that if the power used to charge the battery is not derived from purely hydroelectric sources, then it is primarily the operation of the electric car, which has an environmental impact, exactly as is the case with conventionally fuelled automobiles.

The size of the environmental footprint depends on which sources of power are used to "fuel" the e-mobile.

On the other hand, the Li-ion battery itself has a limited effect on the LCA of the electric vehicle.

This is contrary to initial expectations that the manufacture of the batteries could negate the advantages of the electric drive.

Battery-powered electric cars are often promoted as the ideal solution to the challenges of future mobility, since they produce no exhaust gases in operation.

Li-ion batteries have established themselves over competing lead-acid and nickel metal-hydride (NiMH) types because they are lighter and can store more energy.

"Lithium-ion rechargeable batteries are not as bad as previously assumed," said Dominic Notter, coauthor of the study.

The Empa team concluded that a petrol engine car must consume between three and four liters per 100 kilometers (or about 70 mpg) in order to be as environmentally friendly as the e-car studied, powered with Li-ion batteries and charged with a typical European electricity mix.

The study has just been published in the scientific journal "Environmental Science and Technology."

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