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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.

Henry Gibson

Battery Electric Vehicles should be banned, but Plug-In-Hybrid vehicles with small range extending engine generators like the OPOC eliminate all worries about range and allow the use of cheaper smaller batteries. ACPropusion demonstrated this type of vehicle over ten years ago with full success with lead batteries and a range extending trailer for their TZERO.

Yes someone pointed out what is needed for fast battery charging BIG BIG BIG wires that cause a big demand on the grid. Or a big natural gas powered engine generator of a thousand horsepower is needed.

The nuclear and hydropower in France gives ZERO that IS ZED CO2 emissions except what the operators breath out. ..HG..



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.

But how many of these can get past the stricter U.S. emission regulations? "The 50-state light-duty vehicle limit for emissions of nitrogen oxides is 0.07 grams per mile. In Western Europe, the limit is 0.29. Reducing NOx to nitrogen and oxygen is much harder with a diesel engine because the exhaust is typically cooler and contains less oxygen compared to a gas engine. To meet U.S. regulations, diesel engines are required to use complicated--and expensive--high-pressure fuel injection and after-treatment systems that in some cases inject an aqueous urea solution to handle the NOx. The added expense of course means an even longer payback period for the consumer."


A comment to "cherry picking" and car size mentioned by some of you:

It is stated in the article that: "The electric vehicle studied was comparable to a Volkswagen Golf in size and power..." Thus, we should not compare to a larger average European car when we discuss fuel consumption. The best reference is, of course, a VW Golf. This car is available with various engines from small 4-cylinder engines to a V6 engine. To get similar performance as the EV, we could compare to a Golf with one of the smaller engines, i.e. the TDI BlueMotion (1.6-liter diesel engine at 105 hp). This car has a (diesel) fuel consumptin of 3.8 l/100 km, i.e. 62 MPG. Calculated as gasoline MPG equivalent, that is slightly "worse" (55 MPG) than the break-even of 60 MPG mentioned by the authors. Potential for further development can be seen in (among other things) downsizing and hybridization. Noting that the coming 1.5-liter BMW 3-cylinder diesel will have 177 hp, it can be realized that 105 hp could be achieved with a 1.0-liter engine, provided that state-of-the-art technology is used. A 30% decrease in cylinder volume can reduce fuel consumption by some 20% getting us very close to 3 l/100 km (78 MPG). This is not out in the blue, since this level was reached already in the Audi A2 3L in 1999, a car of roughly similar size as a VW Golf. This car had a 1.2 liter engine. Further gains could be made by hybridization. With an additional 20% reduction due to hybridization, we could get down to about 2.5 l/100 km (94 MPG). My conclusion is that these numbers would be very competitive with the EV in the study (as indicated by the authors of the study, as well).

Future power generation was already studied by MIT (link below). The EV in this study was not competitive with a gasoline HEV regarding neither energy use nor CO2.

Finally, someone mentioned the Ford Focus. It is available in a version in Europe that has a (diesel) fuel consumption of 3,7 l/100 km.


We live in a time when batteries are too heavy and expensive for long range EVs.
100 miles seems to be about it for "normal" EVs, excluding Tesla which is a sports car (and very expensive).

One solution (much favoured) is the PHEV, but it still has the problem of expense.

Another would be to have rental vouchers included with the price (say 2 or 3 / year), or available at a very low price.
Then, if you want to do the big trip, you do a car swap, and do the driving in an ICE (you could chose which type) and then get your car back at the end.

It wouldn't suit everyone, but it might make people more happy about buying EVs.

Alternately, just use EVs as second cars (or as some have said, as first cars).

This could be facilitated by allowing (or encouraging) very low cost insurance for vehicles with low mileage.

Thus, if you had an EV, you could keep your ICE, and use it < 3K miles per annum for 1/4 the insurance cost.


These studies are highly sensitive to the assumptions they are based on. In the case of the referenced study, we do not even have proper information on the boundaries etc they worked from, so it is essentially meaningless.
The critical factor is the price and availability of oil in relation to demand.
Looking at the study Peter XX references, my eyebrows went up just looking at figure 1, which projects demand by country. The demand for vehicles for the US seems rather high, as it trundles steadily up. Well, in a world of higher oil prices over the last few years the US car fleet has started shrinking, and I can't see what is likely to reverse than trend for many years.
Conversely the demand in China is shown as their still having a smaller vehicle fleet than the US in 2050!
Given recent trends, overall demand for vehicles seems likely to be much higher than projected, in spite of static or falling demand in the OECD.
In that context, it becomes even more difficult to squeeze a quart into a pint pot, and if the oil is not about then the alternative is electrification.
Since the Ford report speaks of the US being able, if they reduce potential use bya factor of 3, to run on domestic oil, they seem to take a relatively sanguine view of oil availability, probably based on the IEA etc figures from 2007. Subsequent revisions are continually lowering projected supply.
Another factor to consider is the sheer simplicity of all electric vehicles, which by the way in experiments in ultra fast charging seem to manage without excessively thick cables, don't ask me how.

It seems to me that the swap will be far more brutal and wrenching than indicated, and that shortages of oil will drive the adoption of many more pure EVs than might be indicated by this sort of academic analysis.


ai_vin, there are already diesel cars sold in the US that meet your 0.07 g/mile emission limit, even without SCR (urea) catalyst. US 2010 is roughly equivalent to Euro 6 (considering differences in drive cycle...). We already have a number of diesel cars in Europe that meet Euro 6 (probably due to economic incentives). For example, BMW has a 3-liter diesel engine in the 3, 5 and 6-series that meet this limit. It is easier to meet the limit with a smaller car and a smaller engine, so I hope that we can conclude now that emissions is not hurdles that cannot be passed. Diesel cars are simply not wanted by US customers, so the motivation for manufacturers to market them in the USA is close to zero. This will probably continue as long as misinformation about diesels is spread. If fuel consumption is of concern, I could mention that the Euro 6 versions of the BMW cars have exactly the same fuel consumption and CO2 as the corresponding Euro 5 versions.

Cost is an issue but a NOx catalyst is still less expensive than the incremental cost for an EV. If you do not use SCR, you do not even need an additional catalyst; it is sufficient to change washcoat and active catalyst material on the oxidation catalyst, as shown by e.g. BMW, Mercedes and VW. The injection system is usually similar for both Euro 5 and 6 versions, so there is no additional cost associated here. High injection pressures are needed to reduce engine-out PM (before the filter) and you need this regardless of if you have a NOx catalyst or not. You might need one additional sensor, though.

I could add that there are options to meet Euro 6 and US 2010 without a NOx catalyst on diesels in the future. This is very attractive, since the use of precious metals could be limited and the emission control would not be prone to ageing effects. It would be one small step towards a sustainable solution of emission control(which the 3-way catalyst of the gasoline car is, in fact, not really...).


@ Darius -

...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....

There are dispersion scenarios that occur under certain meteorological conditions that can bring stack plumes down to the surface at relatively short distances from the emission source, and potentially subject downwind receptors to very high levels of power plant emissions. These dispersion scenarios are known as "fumigation" and "looping".

Diesel cars are simply not wanted by US customers
That's propaganda. In the USA, diesels are a large fraction of VW's sales (36% reported for the Jetta and 90% for the SportsWagon model). Detroit just doesn't want to sell them to US consumers.

These days I would buy a turbo GDI over a TDI if it was available, but anything over a conventional engine.


Engineer-Poet, what is propaganda? I would say that the propaganda is currently against diesel cars in the USA. VW is an exception, since they have been promoting diesel cars more than other manufacturers (e.g. BMW & Mercedes) in the USA. However, I have seen that they refer to them as "TDI" not "diesel" cars, probably due to the negative taint of the "diesel" word (propaganda?). Detroit has several diesel engines available through their European subsidiaries and partners. Why would they not sell them if there was a large enough customer demand? The demand is simply not there yet, but it might perhaps come in the future. If more customers, like you, ask for diesel cars, the supply will (eventually) increase. My main point is that this is not a technical issue any more.


Davemart, you do not seem to like the studies by EMPA an MIT. You attack assumptions that have nothing to do with the topics the researchers have actually studied. For example, oil demand has not the main topic of any of those studies. Recognize that both institutes have the highest reputation in their countries respectively. You do not like academic studies. Which study do you like?

When do you think the "brutal swap" will come? Give me a date and I will revert to you then and remind you about what you have stated.

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