Modern automobiles are built with more than 2,000 different compounds comprising 76 different elements. Now, a study by a team from MIT’s Materials Systems Laboratory, with support from Ford, provides insight into how electrification is changing vehicle composition and how that change is driving supply risk vulnerability.
The study, published in Environmental Science & Technology, provides the first comprehensive, high-resolution (elemental- and compound-level) snapshot of material use in both conventional and hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) using a consistent methodology.
The team analyzed part-level data of material use for seven current year models, ranging from internal combustion engine vehicles (ICEV) to plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEVs), all provided by Ford. The researchers devised a metric of vulnerability, referred to as exposure, which captures economic importance and susceptibility to price changes.
Among the findings were that exposure increases from $874 per vehicle for ICEV passenger vehicles to $2,344 per vehicle for SUV PHEVs. A shift to a fully PHEV fleet would double automaker exposure, adding approximately $1 billion per year of supply risk to a hypothetical fleet of a million vehicles.
The increase in exposure is largely not only due to the increased use of battery elements such as cobalt, graphite, and nickel but also some more commonly used materials, most notably copper.
Karan Bhuwalka, Frank R. Field, Robert D. De Kleine, Hyung Chul Kim, Timothy J. Wallington, and Randolph E. Kirchain (2021) “Characterizing the Changes in Material Use due to Vehicle Electrification” Environmental Science & Technology doi: 10.1021/acs.est.1c00970