Preparing for more EVs: Three things for policymakers to consider

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV.COM Ltd.

Promoted content

ElectricCar-5211295341 [iStock]

In its 2019 EV Outlook, Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) gives an overview of where things stand and where they are heading in the electric vehicle (EV) market, both in Europe and globally.

The report predicts that by 2040, 57% of global new passenger vehicle sales will be EVs, and these vehicles will then make up 30% of the global passenger vehicle fleet. The report also foresees Europe becoming the second largest market for EVs in the 2020s, behind China.

This data shows it is time for policymakers to prepare for the growing EV market which will lead to a higher demand for certain resources that are vital for EV technology, such as copper.

The EU has already made strides in facilitating more sustainable transportation, such as the Clean Mobility Package that brought in rules to further decarbonise the sector. This kind of work should continue over the new mandate, so the EU is ready for a future with more EVs. In particular, policymakers should pay attention to three key topics.

Put in place the right charging infrastructure for EVs

As the BNEF report says, the number of EVs on European roads will continue to increase at a quick pace over the coming decades. Even if a regulatory environment supporting the uptake of EVs is put into place, consumers will only feel confident in purchasing EVs instead of traditional vehicles if the charging infrastructure exists.

This calls for EV owners to be able to reload their car battery overnight in less than three hours at home, in a hotel or at a public parking facility.  It is also important to facilitate long distance travel through the installation of fast charging points on main roads.

The 2019 EV outlook by BNEF shows that Europe already had 190,000 public charging outlets in 2018, but more needs to be done. Concretely we propose to install 150 kW chargers every 60 km along the TEN-T core network to improve the range of EVs.

This infrastructure does, however, mean increased demand for resources. Copper is a key part of this EV charging infrastructure. Every single home EV charger, including cabling, needs 2.1 kg of copper while chargers for professional vehicles such as taxis may need up to 5.4 kg.

Battery EVs themselves can use from two to four times as much copper as traditional vehicles. Adequate amounts of resources such as copper will, therefore, be needed for the rollout of such infrastructure.

Further invest in battery technology

According to the BNEF report, demand for lithium-ion batteries for EVs will grow from around 200 GWh today to more than 2,000 GWh by 2030. At the same time, battery prices will continue to fall, perhaps by over 50%.

The stock of batteries is expected to increase significantly over the coming decade as the market for EVs develops.  It is crucial to establish a system for a Battery ID code, a unique and structured code for the battery system, pack and module that will lead to an efficient recycling system with automatic dismantling and specific battery cell processing.

EV batteries rely on copper–about 10% of a battery weight is made of copper, which translates into a need for 500 tonnes of this metal per GWh of capacity.

As regulators push for more EVs to reduce emissions and reliance on fossil fuels, battery technologies form an important part of the solution and a supportive regulatory environment should be maintained, to encourage innovation and recycling.

Keep up with demand: more EVs means more resources

As the figures mentioned above show, an uptake in EVs means higher demand for materials such as copper. To meet this increased demand, high recycling rates are needed but so is sustainable extraction.

Regarding copper, we expect that around 250,000 tonnes will be required annually to supply the European EV system (vehicles and charging infrastructure) in the mid-2030s, which corresponds to 7% of the current annual demand in the EU.

All of this brings up concerns as to whether there are actually enough resources to meet this growing demand and to enable the high uptake of EVs in the coming decades. For copper, the data is clear. There is enough. Global copper reserves are estimated at 830 million tonnes (US Geological Survey [USGS], 2019), and annual copper demand is 28 million tonnes.

Furthermore, according to USGS data, since 1950 there has always been, on average, 40 years of copper reserves available and over 200 years of resources, which include reserves, discovered and potentially profitable deposits and undiscovered deposits predicted based on preliminary geological surveys.

These copper resources total 5 billion tonnes (USGS, 2014 & 2017). Keep in mind that copper is circular by nature and can be recycled without any loss in quality over and over again. Already, 35% of global copper demand is met with recycled copper, reaching 50% in Europe, meaning the need for more mined copper is significantly reduced.

It is also vital that copper is produced sustainably. For this reason, members of the International Copper Association (ICA) developed the Copper Mark, a program for assessing the performance of copper mines and refiners based on responsible production criteria so investors and copper consumers can make informed decisions.

Conclusion

These three topics around EVs (charging infrastructure, battery management and higher demand for resources) are what policymakers should be considering over the new mandate to further facilitate the uptake of EVs and to reach set climate and energy targets. The EU has already made important progress, but to really make the transition to a decarbonised economy happen, more work is needed.

Subscribe to our newsletters

Subscribe

Want to know what's going on in the EU Capitals daily? Subscribe now to our new 9am newsletter.