Green, the electric car? Yes, but there is a critical point: the battery. On Wednesday, three NGOs denounced the opacity of the world’s leading battery manufacturers. While the Tesla, Renault Zoe or BMW i3 are multiplying on Swiss roads, and the new VW ID.3s appear, their battery suppliers are being blamed. Bread for the Next (PPP), Action de Carême and the Transport and Environment Association have published a study to denounce the low level of battery designers’ regard for the environment, the extraction of raw materials and recycling.
These names are almost unknown to the general public: CATL, BYD, LG Chem or even SK Innovation. Along with Panasonic and Samsung SDI, they are the main manufacturers of batteries for electric cars. For their study, the NGOs – which added the Swiss ABB, an assembler of batteries for public transport vehicles – analyzed these seven companies in the light of 39 criteria, by scanning all their reports, especially on sustainability, which they publish. Verdict: South Korean Samsung SDI leads the way, ahead of ABB and two other Korean companies, LG Chem and SK Innovation. Chinese BD and Japanese Panasonic followed, the other Chinese company CATL bringing up the rear, the latter having provided very poor data on respect for human rights and the environment.
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Opacity at CATL
The CATL case is of particular concern to NGOs, because “this company is the world leader in the automotive battery market and is pursuing an expansionary policy in the Western market,” the report notes. CATL alone supplies BMW, Daimler, Honda, Hyundai, Jaguar, Land Rover, Toyota, Volkswagen and Tesla. The latter also buys batteries from LG Chem and Panasonic. “On its website, CATL continues to announce the publication of its report on its responsible cobalt supply chain for … 2018,” notes Karin Mader, Economics and Human Rights expert at PPP and Action de Carême. “It is a laudable objective, given the damage caused by the extraction of this mineral in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the need for transparency. But the fact of not updating its objectives and not answering our questions makes us doubt … “
Seen in this harsh light, would the electric car be worse, in terms of pollution, than gasoline vehicles? “On the contrary! If you just take into account the manufacture of the vehicle, the electric model uses more energy, continues Karin Mader. But if you take into account its energy consumption for driving, in total, it is less polluting. But major efforts must be made to reduce the social and ecological damage caused by the production of their batteries. ” And according to the official, the consumer also has a role to play – “There is no point in buying yourself a big electric SUV, you are not going to save the planet like that.”
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A second life
Efforts on the part of manufacturers, NGOs are also claiming them for accumulators at the end of their life. According to Karin Mader, a battery is deemed unusable after ten years by manufacturers, while it can still reach 80% of its charge. “Rather than throwing away these batteries, they can be reused as stationary accumulators, for example to store photovoltaic energy. Manufacturers must have a more holistic view of their products. ”
Another problem, and not the least, raised by NGOs: the fact that extracting minerals is often still significantly cheaper than using recycled metals. “This is the case for lithium, for example, the extraction of which has very negative effects on the ecosystem and the lives of local people in Chile and Argentina,” continues Karin Mader. New regulations are needed to promote recycling of battery ores at the end of their life, rather than mining them. ”
With this study, NGOs hope to put pressure on CATL, BYD or even Tesla directly, in the same way they have singled out smartphone manufacturers. “The batteries of phones and cars are similar, only the size is different,” concludes Karin Mader. We hope to educate both manufacturers and consumers so that electric vehicles are not only ‘cleaner’, but also manufactured responsibly ”. Monitoring of supplier activities, as well as field surveys, are planned for the coming months.
Electric cars progress in Switzerland
The impression of seeing more BMW i3s or Tesla Model 3s on Swiss roads is confirmed by figures from Auto Suisse, the association of Swiss automobile importers. On Wednesday, the latter announced that, for the first time, the models that can be recharged on the electricity network exceeded, for the month of August, the mark of 10% of the total, with a share of 15.7%. A year earlier, this share was 4.4%. “We are optimistic that this double digit result will be maintained until the end of the year,” a spokesperson for Auto Suisse said on Wednesday.
In the first eight months of the year, the share of electric vehicles is 10.4%, of which “only” 1.8% is attributable to Tesla, the only manufacturer to manufacture only electric models. This means that electric models from BMW, Renault, Audi and even Jaguar are progressing. Since the start of the year, Tesla has sold 2,567 vehicles in Switzerland, a figure similar to that posted by Citroën, Mitsubishi and Porsche. Opel only sold 400 more models for comparison than Tesla. Note that due to the pandemic, overall, 29.7% fewer cars were sold in Switzerland this year compared to 2019. A. S.