Regulation (EU) 2023/1542 of the European Parliament and of the Council concerning batteries and waste batteries took effect this summer (on 12 July 2023 to be precise) and it’s a good first step towards a sustainable battery economy that will, hopefully, reduce carbon in the long-term.
When you consider that all of the zero emission claims for battery-powered vehicles are complete bullcr@p when you consider the carbon emissions to produce the vehicle, the carbon emissions required to produce the battery (which, in an inefficient process, can be more than 2X the emissions to produce the rest of the vehicle), and then the emissions to charge the battery from what is usually an oil or coal power plant, you might have to drive as much as 1,000,000 kms just to reach carbon neutrality! (And while the linked article doesn’t work out the best case scenario, it’s likely you’re driving the full warranty, or about 200,000 kms, to reach carbon neutrality when you’re charging the batteries burning oil or dirty coal.)
And even if the vehicle production is optimized, the battery production is optimized, and the power grid is primarily powered by pure renewable energy, it’s still not zero emission. The production of solar panels emit carbon, the production of windmills produce carbon, the building of dams and the generators that run them produce carbon, so you have to amortize that over the expected lifetime every time you charge that battery. So even a green vehicle will produce thousands of kilograms of carbon in its production, thousands of kilograms of carbon in its battery production, and hundreds to thousands of kilograms of carbon during its recharging. If you’re lucky enough to have the best case scenario with access to high efficiency solar, then you can get your carbon footprint down to about 10g per kwH over its expected lifetime, or a mere kg of carbon per full charge (or 400 kg over the first 200,000 km), and you approach carbon neutrality not long after you negate the production costs (which you might never do today as some methods to produce new batteries are so dirty). (But most of us do not have access to clean solar grids.)
This means that most first time produced vehicles with first time produced batteries are actually quite dirty. Very, very dirty. And the only way we’re ever going to get greener vehicles is to 1) cut down the carbon on vehicle production and 2) cut down the carbon in our power generation. Now, until we ban power production from oil, coal, and natural gas for fixed location power production (and build enough renewable power plants or start building micro modular reactor grids [where you could literally keep enough concrete on site to safely bury one in the case of a pending meltdown] and take advantage of the Onkalo spent nuclear fuel repository), there’s not much we can do about 2), but there are lots of things we can do about 1). First of all, we can make vehicles with more longevity (better part quality, more rustproof materials, easy part replacement, design for recycling, etc.). Secondly, we can design our batteries for reconditioning and recycling, to minimize the carbon production in the creation of future batteries, to make the next generation of vehicles greener.
But history has taught us no one does the up front research to design for recycling, or invests in recycling without regulation, so any regulation that forces companies to make more sustainable, circular, and safe batteries is not only a good thing, but the necessary first step on the road to truly getting green(er) vehicles.