France, Germany and the UK all have target EV sales of around 10% of all car sales by 2020. Is this a realistically achievable sustainable development on a global scale?

The global production of cars in 2011 was 60 million per year, growing at 3.3% per year. Cars account for 74% of production of motor vehicles and are responsible for about 20% of all the carbon released into the atmosphere [1]. National governments implement policies to reduce this source of emissions through taxation and incentives. One of the incentives is to subsidise electric vehicles (EVs). From a materials point of view, the major differences between electric and internal combustion (IC) cars are the replacement of the IC engine with electric motors that, at present, use Neodymium-Boron permanent magnets and the replacement of gasoline or diesel fuel by batteries. It is estimated that the global production of electric cars – either hybrids (HV), plug-in hybrids (PHV), or fully electric (EV) – will exceed 16 million per year in 2021 and will account for 20% of all vehicles manufactured [2]. EVs, particularly, are seen as the way to decarbonise road transport. France, Germany and the UK all have target EV sales of around 10% of all car sales by 2020. Is this a realistically achievable sustainable development on a global scale?

Background information:

  • Today’s electric cars have 16 kWh batteries and a claimed range of up to 100 km between charges.
  • An EV with this range requires about 1.5 kg of Neodymium for the motors [3] and 7.3 kg of lithium, (equating to 0.46 kg Lithium per nominal kWh) for the rechargeable batteries [4].
  • The at-wheel energy required to propel a small car is between 0.6 and 1.0 MJ/km (0.17 and 3 kW.hr/km) [5].
  • Delivered electric power from a gas-fired power station has a carbon footprint of 500 g/kW.hr, or 140 g/MJ [6]; that from a coal fired power station has larger carbon footprint.

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