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Life cycle assessment of electric vehicle batteries and new technologies

Time: Fri 2021-06-04 09.00

Location:, Stockholm (English)

Subject area: Production Engineering

Doctoral student: Mats Zackrisson , Hållbar produktionsutveckling (ML)

Opponent: Anders Nordelöf, Chalmers

Supervisor: Magnus Wiktorsson, Hållbar produktionsutveckling (ML); Martin Kurdve, Rise IVF; Christina Jönsson, Rise IVF

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Electrification of vehicles has for decades been explored as a possible solution to the problem of climate change. Today, in 2021, the issue is no longer whether the electrification of vehicle fleets ought to happen but rather how it can be achieved with as little environmental impact as possible.

The objective of this thesis is therefore to facilitate the use of life cycle assessment (LCA) for the evaluation and improvement of the environmental performance of electric vehicle traction batteries. The lack of LCA data on several traction battery chemistries and some associated LCA methodological difficulties have been identified as important research gaps. The broader purpose of this thesis is to contribute to sustainable industrial and societal change that involves new technologies.

This thesis examines three research questions related to LCA in new technology introduction: (1) LCA data issues regarding present and future lithium traction battery chemistries. (2) LCA methodological issues regarding present and future lithium traction battery chemistries. (3) Use of LCA in product and production development to advance the introduction of sustainable consumption and production of any new technology. 

The results emphasise e.g. to always include the use phase in LCA traction battery studies and to improve battery energy density but not to the detriment of battery internal efficiency. Furthermore, it points to use two abiotic depletion measures to reflect scarce materials in both the short term and the long term. Additionally, it is recommended to calculate the results for all relevant functional units, because it facilitates comparisons and reflection, to choose environmental impact categories for traction batteries from a ranking list, as well as to use chemical risk assessment from a life cycle perspective to complement and develop within-LCA toxicity impact methods. To some extent, the above results are applicable for most development of new technology. A general recommendation for all technology development striving to include LCA is to use screening LCA, chemical risk assessment and idea generation in early phases to help build engagement, competence and data for a full LCA in later phases.