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Study Finds Environmental Impact of Li-ion Battery for BEVs is Relatively Small; The Operation Phase is the Dominant Contributor to Environmental Burden

Environmental burden of a gasoline-fueled ICEV relative to that of a BEV (100%) assessed by four different methods: abiotic depletion potential (ADP), nonrenewable cumulated energy demand (CED), global warming potential (GWP), and Ecoindicator 99 H/A (EI99 H/A). Credit; ACS, Notter et al. Click to enlarge.

A team from the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (Empa) compiled a detailed lifecycle inventory of a Li-ion battery and produced a rough lifecycle analysis (LCA) of battery-electric vehicle mobility. Their study, published in the ACS journal Environmental Science & Technology, showed that the environmental burdens of mobility are dominated by the operation phase regardless of whether a gasoline-fueled ICEV or a European electricity-fueled BEV is used.

Compared to a reference internal combustion engine vehicle (ICEV), use of a BEV in transport results in lower environmental burdens as assessed by four different methods, they found. However, the PM10, NOx and SO2 emissions caused by E-mobility were higher compared to mobility with an ICEV.

The share of the total environmental impact of E-mobility caused by the battery (measured in Ecoindicator 99 points) is 15%. The impact caused by the extraction of lithium for the components of the Li-ion battery is less than 2.3% (Ecoindicator 99 points). The major contributor to the environmental burden caused by the battery is the supply of copper and aluminum for the production of the anode and the cathode, plus the required cables or the battery management system.

The researchers modeled a LiMn2O4 battery, assuming that manganese will in the near future be substituted for the nickel and cobalt commonly used currently. They also performed calculations on different cathode materials containing nickel, cobalt or iron-phosphate in order to check the sensitivity of the results.

The electric vehicle studied was comparable to a Volkswagen Golf in size and power with a range of around 200 km (124 miles) per charge with an assumed lifetime of 150,000 km (93,000 miles). They assumed that 14.1 kWh of electric energy is needed per 100 km to propel a Golf-class vehicle with an overall efficiency of 80% (including charging losses and recuperation gains) in a standard driving cycle (New European Driving Cycle, NEDC). Heating, cooling, and electronic devices consume 2.9 kWh/100 km. The BEV thus required a total of 17 kWh/100 km.

They chose the average electricity production mix (UCTE) in Europe for the operation of the BEVs in agreement with the criteria used in the rest of their study and in the ecoinvent database. The environmental burden for the operation of BEV depends mainly on the choice of electricity production.

The ICEV reference vehicle was a new efficient gasoline car (Euro 5 standard) consuming 5.2 L/100km (45 mpg US) in the NEDC, resulting in a direct emission of 0.12 kg CO2 per km.

They expressed the environmental burdens as global warming potential (GWP) applying a time frame of 100 years; the cumulative energy demand (CED) of which only the nonrenewable (fossil fuel and nuclear) are disclosed; and the Ecoindicator 99 using the hierarchic perspective and an average weighting (EI99 H/A). They indicated resource depletion as abiotic depletion potential (ADP), one of the impact categories in the CML method. They also presented cumulative particulate matter (PM10), SO2, and NOx emissions.

The Li-ion battery plays a minor role regarding the environmental burdens of E-mobility irrespective of the impact assessment method used. Transport services with an ICEV cause higher environmental burdens than with a BEV (ADP, + 37.47% or 261 kg antimony equivalents; GWP, + 55.3% or 37,700 kg CO2 equivalents; CED, +23.5% or 593,000 MJ-equivalents; EI99 H/A, +61.6% or 2530 points). The share of the total environmental impact of E-mobility caused by the battery is between 7 (CED) and 15% (EI99 H/A). Analysis with EI99H/A showed a relative share of E-mobility caused by the battery that is twice as high as analysis with the other impact assessment methods, and this is mainly at the expense of the operation phase.

...PM10-, NOx-, and SO2-emissions caused by E-mobility (PM10 100%, 16.2 kg; NOx 100%, 49.5 kg; SO2 100%, 83.7 kg) are higher compared to mobility with an ICEV (PM10 79.0%, 12.8 kg; NOx 87.9%, 43.5 kg; SO2 74.7%, 62.5 kg; Supporting Information Figure S1 and Table S20). All these emissions result mainly from operation independently of the vehicle type. The production of the battery, the glider, and the drivetrain also emits considerable amounts of PM10, NOx, and SO2.

—Notter et al.

A breakeven analysis showed that an ICEV would need to consume less than 3.9 L/100km (60 mpg US) to cause lower CED than a BEV or less than 2.6 L/100km (90 mpg US) to cause a lower EI99 H/A score. Consumptions in this range are achieved by some small and very efficient diesel ICEVs, the authors noted.


  • Dominic A. Notter, Marcel Gauch, Rolf Widmer, Patrick Wäger, Anna Stamp, Rainer Zah and Hans-Jörg Althaus (2010) Contribution of Li-Ion Batteries to the Environmental Impact of Electric Vehicles. Environ. Sci. Technol., Article ASAP doi: 10.1021/es903729a



This is exactly what reasonable people would assume, but it is nice to see another nail in the coffin of those who are deliberately spreading FUD like Petersen.


"A breakeven analysis showed that an ICEV would need to consume less than 3.9 L/100km (60 mpg US) to cause lower CED than a BEV or less than 2.6 L/100km (90 mpg US) to cause a lower EI99 H/A score."

60 MPG US is within reach with present technology and has none of the problems with range and recharge time of a BEV. furthermore the initial cost is lower and the engine has longer life.


Concerning the article text,

A breakeven analysis showed that an ICEV would need to consume less than 3.9 L/100km (60 mpg US) to cause lower CED than a BEV or less than 2.6 L/100km (90 mpg US) to cause a lower EI99 H/A score. Consumptions in this range are achieved by some small and very efficient diesel ICEVs, the authors noted.

It is inappropriate to introduce diesel MPG as equivalent to gasoline MPG. Diesel soot has been found to be the second most important greenhouse pollutant after CO2 (beating out methane) in recent work by Mark Jacobson at Stanford.

Also, please note that the authors used the current European electric grid in their study. Unlike ICEVs, BEVs get cleaner with time as we improve the electric grid. In contrast ICEVs get dirtier with time, both as the vehicle components age, but especially as we are forced to turn to dirtier and dirtier sources of crude (e.g. oil sands, coal to liquids, etc.).

My last point about the improving grid invalidaes Mannstein's comment. By the time ICEVs reach 60 MPG, the grid will have improved to the point that yet higher ICEV MPG will be required. Mannstein has also apparently not heard of fast BEV charging (e.g. the Nissan Leaf). It is technically possible to charge lithium batteries in 5 minutes (see A123 for example). As for the cost argument, new technology does usually get introduced at a cost disadvantage (e.g. early cell phones or CD players), but the manufacturing learning curve usually solves the problem in a few generations. Mannstein's concern about longer life from an ICEV engine is also wrong. Modern battery technology will soon outlast vehicle lifetimes, creating the problem of how we are going to move batteries from old vehicles to new ones.


People may see that the Leaf or Focus hybrid work fine as a second car. They may have been considering buying a previously owned car, but total cost of ownership comes into the picture.

It will be very interesting to see the public acceptance of BEVs. If it goes like I think it will, they will sell slowly at first but could build over the coming years.

It is a mind set that you need great range, but when people find out they really don't, then a shift can happen. Add to that $4 gasoline and one or more OPEC nations having fits and it could be a real winner.


My issue with this study is they make no reference to the numbers they use for the ICE. I saw no environmental burdens of the fuel. So I don't know if they are basing it on just the gas at tank burden, or if they include the full energy cost of getting the fuel to the tank. Although it does show the BEV being better than the ICE regardless, I think better clarification on the ICE burden is needed.


Today, it seems like going from 100 miles BEV range (Nissan Leaf) to 200 miles BEV range (Car X with double the battery) doubles the cost of the car and most people trip on that. If quick charging got the battery up to half capacity in 10 minutes, then people on a 400 mile trip would need to stop about 7 times, adding perhaps an extra hour to their trip. They probably only need to do that a few times a year. Let's say 5 times a year. So, would you accept the inconvenience of adding 5 hours of charging stops per year in order to get your electric car for $25,000 instead of $50,000?


@ Eak,

What you fail to realize is that the "small and very efficient diesel ICEVs" emit less carbon per mile than a current BEV in the US. These ICEV diesels have extremely advanced emission systems with Diesel Particulate Filters, and NOx eliminating catalytic converters.

I agree that the US and the world will only continue to develop more and more renewable and clean sources to generate electricity, and will not be generating 50% coal power for their electricity. However, the same can be said for the ICEV, and the fact that liquid fuels are becoming more renewable and clean everyday. Biofuels, drop in liquid fuels from biomass, and other efficiencies could easily displace a large amount of petroleum shortly.

This shouldn't be a war between competing forms of alternative energy and mass transportation, but moreover the end goal to displace the most amount of petroleum and overall reduction of GHGs.


Which technology emits less GHG may not be the main issue for a country importing 67% of the liquid fuel it uses.

Which technology uses less imported oil may be more imported.

Electrified vehicles can do both, less (potentially none) GHG emission and NO imported oil.

In our area, with almost 100% of plentiful Hydro Power and no oil, electrified vehicles will be a real win-win.


I agree with Barclay. Diesel soot is a non-issue with DPF.

Even diesel-loathing CARB has shown that exhaust particles from a DPF-equipped diesel car are indistinguishable from background levels (filtered dilution tunnel air) based on measurement from several different particle counters.

The bigger issue is the higher soot from SIDI vehicles which most auto companies are now moving to. They have the potential to offset much of the progress made in reducing soot from ICE sources.


Mannstein, we get it. You don't like EVs. So don't buy one. Geez. LOL


It's interesting that the authors would use the current European grid, yet they use some car getting 60mpg which is not even close to the current average.

Why didn't they go ahead and pick the European country with the cleanest grid if they were going to cherry pick the ICEV? Either use the average for both or use the best for both.

Even with what they did, the EV wins for GHG. And this ignores the imported petroleum problem and what that does to the economy of Europe.

Dave R

@HealthyBreeze - I sure would - The vast majority of my trips are less than 100 miles.

Maybe once every couple months I take a trip to visit some relatives about 120 miles away - so being able to fill up 50% in 10 minutes would present no major issue as we normally stop about half the time, anyway.

A couple times a year (at the most) I travel to visit relatives about 450 mile away - and typically stop 3-4 times already for breaks - adding a couple more short stops wouldn't be an issue if I knew the wait wouldn't be more than 15-20 minutes.

"It is technically possible to charge lithium batteries in 5 minutes (see A123 for example)."

Yeah, you can recharge a BEV in 5 minutes, you just don't want to see the wires it takes to do it. Nor be anywhere near the car if an electrical fault happens during recharge. 20kWh in 5 minutes is 240kW of power.

That said, there is something about the inherent benefit to running off electricity rather than gasoline - primarily its easier to clean up one tailpipe than 100,000, and I'm keeping my money in the US instead of sending it overseas.

It's interesting that the authors would use the current European grid, yet they use some car getting 60mpg which is not even close to the current average.
To be fair, they did give the equivalent fuel consumption of the current grid mix, and most of today's vehicle fleet is quite a bit worse.

I do wonder how the numbers would change given e.g. 40% wind on the grid.  A large EV fleet with several hours of slop in the time they need to be fully charged is one heck of a big DSM resource, and would allow the next-best resources (combined-cycle gas plants) to be left on standby until needed.  Of course, nuclear would resolve most of the issues (except the political ones).


There is several points which make some doubts:

1. The 14 kWh/100 km is rather high EV rating. LEAF and Chevy Volt claim lower ratings (around 12 kWh). Heating and cooling 2.9 kWh or on average 2.5 kW - that is enormous amount! You can cool/heat house. For heating you can use gasoline heater if you like or 4 kW of heat which comes from EV "inefficiency" stated in the study.
Losses in the network or charging losses very depend on location, day/night time and location. For instance you can not avoid transformer idling losses during night.

2. There is big differences of emission location SO2, NOx or PM. One thing you are emitting those pollutants through the stack 150 m high at power plant and completely another issue when you emit directly into my nose. The effect has huge difference because those pollutants do not live for ever.

3. In case they took future ICE rating they should consider future gasoline CO2 and on contrary future power generation mix with much cleaner coal.

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