Beware of this false information about making electric car batteries

The end of the sale of thermobiles from 2035 was adopted by the 27 EU Member States on 29 June, a new step to help achieve the climate goals. And since the European Parliament voted in favor of this text on 9 June, publications criticizing electric vehicles have spread on social networks. In June, a picture was again widely shared on Facebook: it indicates that in order to manufacture an electric car battery “which weighs 450 kg”, it is necessary “to dig, move and process 225 tons of raw material”.

Screenshot of the erroneous electric car battery estimate shared on social media. – Screenshot / Facebook

“Electric cars do not save the planet, they destroy it,” the post concludes. Also on Twitter, the environmental cost of electric vehicles, a user condemning their “negative CO2 consequences”, is pointed out in a tweet shared more than 600 times. Other photos have reappeared on Facebook: the photos of an Autolib cemetery in Loir-et-Cher, where the batteries are said to be leaking (an infox, which dates from 2021 and which we had treated here).

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The figures mentioned in the viral visualization are “false”, assesses Olivier Vidal, research director at CNRS, at the Institute of Earth Sciences in Grenoble. Aluminum, steel, manganese, copper, cobalt: for a 320 kg battery (Zoe city vehicle type from Renault), “we certainly do not exceed 25 tons of ore, ie 10 times less than what was advertised”, you calculate -he. By September 2021, the Bureau of Geological and Mining Research had estimated, with AFP, which had actually checked another version of this image, “that we were about 21 tons” and not 225.

In addition, keep in mind that the weight of a battery is generally between 250 kg and 300 kg. More powerful electric car models logically have a heavier battery to ensure their autonomy: Tesla batteries weigh between 430 kg and 600 kg. A 450 kg battery is, as mentioned in the visual, therefore one of the most energy-intensive models.

“It’s a lot,” comments Olivier Vidal. And this is not necessarily representative of the European fleet “, although he notes that manufacturers tend to produce electric vehicles, which are” the exact copy of the thermal, with the same performance “, a” nonsense “in their eyes .

“An electric vehicle pollutes three to five times less than a thermal vehicle”

Furthermore, the stated estimate is not plausible. “0.45 tons of battery for 225 tons of raw materials, which gives an average concentration of metal in this displaced material of 0.2%,” continues the research leader. It is ridiculous, it corresponds to the average concentration of cobalt in the deposits. »

As the sources of this estimate are not given, it is not possible to know whether the life cycle analysis (LCA) has been taken into account. LCA makes it possible to assess all environmental impacts. But even taking into account the analysis of its entire life cycle, “the electric vehicle pollutes three to five times less than a thermal vehicle”, emphasizes Pierre Lefaivle, transport manager for the Climate Action Network, based on a tool developed by Transport and The Environmental Association (ATE). The latter makes it possible to compare the difference in CO2 emissions between thermal and electric vehicles.

The importance of the energy mix

To manufacture an electric vehicle, “it is certainly necessary, at present, twice as much energy as to produce a thermal vehicle, primarily because of the battery,” admits Oliver Vidal. “But the extra production costs are recovered from 80,000 kilometers.” therefore, a country’s energy mix enters the equation.There is no interest in developing electromobility in a country where electricity is produced by coal.

“These problems are complicated, want to qualify the researcher. Saying “the electric vehicle kills the planet” is as silly as saying that houses or food kill the planet, since in both cases we also need raw materials. It is necessary to compare the different options, to write with a predicted development of the population, GDP, the mode of transport, before drawing conclusions too quickly. »

“Tomorrow’s mobility will not have as many cars”

“The clean vehicle does not exist,” said Pierre Leflaive of the Climate Action Network. This group of associations defends electromobility under certain conditions to limit greenhouse gas emissions. And regrets that the environmental and social issues associated with its development are underestimated by policy makers.

If the post is “caricatural”, according to Pierre Leflaive, it raises the question of sobriety and improving the ecological and social balance of electric vehicles, especially as regards the extraction of rare metals. “Tomorrow’s mobility will not be to have as many electric cars and SUVs as the current fleet, it is not possible,” he admits. To get out of thermal vehicles as quickly as possible with a clear goal of completing sales by 2035, we will need to reduce the car fleet and secure supplies. And therefore to question the fact of having mines in Europe to bet on the level of environmental, social and human rights requirements. »

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