By Zach Henkin
Electric cars can sometimes sound too good to be true. Lower operating costs thanks to inexpensive electricity paired with government incentives and snazzy feature-rich technological appeal. That “too good to be true” logic leads some to try to debunk the benefits of electric transportation by examining the true-life cycle costs of an electric car — and taking a long look at the materials and circumstances behind the bulk of the car’s cost the battery.
The vast majority of the plug-in vehicles that are being sold today are designed around a lithium-based battery. There are different chemical compositions, and design components being used but it is altogether safe to say that lithium will stay a primary component of automotive batteries for the foreseeable near future. Batteries of this type are excellent at retaining energy, have a low self-discharge rate, and offer a great value for the cost for energy density.
The mining for the heavy metals that make up any of the primary materials of any automotive battery can’t exactly be said to be “sustainable” in practice but depending on how you look at the life cycle it’s not all bad. Batteries are the number 1 recycled product in the United States and will likely remain so as long as the batteries, and the heavy metals inside of them, are valued. As a consequence, any battery that is installed in a car today has a very high likelihood of being used well beyond the service life of the car either through direct re-use or some form of repurposed recycling. The batteries will either be turned into new batteries or used for storage purposes where maximum capacity isn’t a priority.
Thanks to strong policy, automakers are required to warranty batteries for 10-years or 150,000 miles. Gone is the concern that you’ll need to refresh your battery after a handful of years. We can instead trust our cars to operate and perform the way an internal combustion vehicle would, only better.