UC Berkeley School of Law’s Center for Law, Energy & the Environment (CLEE) and the Natural Resource Governance Institute (NRGI) are conducting a stakeholder-led research initiative focused on identifying strategies to improve sustainability and governance across the EV battery supply chain.
Diagram of the EV battery supply chain from “Building A Sustainable Electric Vehicle Battery Supply Chain”.
As the first step in this initiative, CLEE and NRGI have prepared a background brief on the issue. Preliminary findings included as part of the brief:
The greenhouse gas emissions benefits of EVs are clear and will grow as global electricity supplies become increasingly less carbon-intensive. Differences in battery materials and production techniques, including the location and energy mix of production, also affect the emissions profiles of different EVs. A battery produced in a jurisdiction using coal-fired electricity, for example, will have significantly higher emissions than one produced using cleaner power.
The structure of the supply chain also adds to batteries’ life-cycle emissions, just as it does for petroleum. In total, analyses of battery production (including the extraction of component minerals) suggest that emissions from manufacturing an EV battery are roughly equivalent to the emissions from manufacturing the rest of the vehicle. Some experts have suggested that these emissions represent approximately 5-15 percent of the total life-cycle emissions of an EV in many places, although these estimates can vary widely.
The supply chain is complex and subject to a number of potential bottlenecks where few countries or companies are responsible for dominant shares of production. Ultimately, while demand for key minerals may grow exponentially with the market—by more than 300% for graphite, more than 500% for cobalt, and more than 900% for lithium by 2050—experts cannot project with certainty how technological change will impact supply chains. As a result, the potential impact of mineral supply bottlenecks in the future remains unknown.
Various stages of the supply chain in locations around the world present sustainability risks, from low-level corruption to displacement of local populations, but these risks are not unique to EV mineral extraction—and a number of global initiatives are working to address them. Certain risks are, however, particularly connected with mining for minerals used in EV batteries. Specifically, the heavy concentration of global cobalt reserves in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC, where more than half of global cobalt production originates) has significant impacts on the human rights risks associated with the battery supply chain due to significant governance challenges in the country.
Supply chain players will need to improve coordination and data-sharing efforts significantly to achieve long-term sustainability.
CLEE and NRGI will release a full report later this year building on these findings and offering policy recommendations to address key risks.