Worley examines the future of sustainable battery production

David San Julián Alonso, Worley, shares expert insight on battery sustainability — how urgency breeds innovation, & battery decarbonisation through data

With fifteen years of experience in the consulting and engineering industry, including eight years at Worley, David San Julián Alonso is the Life Cycle Assessment Global Lead and Director, Business Development at the company. 

He supports the Battery Active Materials Strategic Growth Unit at Worley through the strategic enablement of partnership in the LCA spectrum within the batteries supply chain. As a Director of Business Development within the resources team, David’s primary focus is on the EMEA region.

Worley is a global team of 51,000 of the world’s brightest minds in energy, chemicals and resources, all working to deliver a more sustainable world. Founded in 1893, the company has spent over a century innovating, working to solve the complex issues of the energy, chemicals and resources sectors.


How do EV batteries have an impact on climate change?

Earlier this year, in partnership with researchers from Princeton University’s Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment, Worley’s latest From Ambition to Reality Report identified that, on current trends, the global transition to net zero is sitting a significant distance from where it needs to be. To keep ambitions of mid-century decarbonisation alive, the whole global energy system requires a radical new approach to close the gap to net zero by 2030.

One key sector to close this gap is transport, and, demonstrating the level of radical ambition needed, automotive companies have invested over US$515bn in electric vehicle (EV) technology in response. The impact of this on battery demand is monumental and the International Energy Agency (IEA) anticipates that the battery market for EVs will grow substantially from 1 terawatt-hour (TWh) in 2023 to 6.8 TWhs by 2030. 

Given that staggering level of demand, it comes as no surprise that urgent steps are being taken to enhance the efficiency of battery production across the entire value chain. However, we must ensure every element of the battery is as green as possible to ensure we’re continually reducing our carbon footprint.

To tackle this, legislation and regulation is now falling into place to ensure the market lives up to its sustainable credentials. New regulations, including the European Battery Legislation, are mandating stricter sustainability requirements for the entire battery value chain and adding additional considerations for producers. Amongst this complexity, it is vital to have a clear understanding of where the industry is tracking on sustainability currently.


How can the impact of EV batteries be reduced?

Minviro and Worley's data suggests that over coming decades increased availability of clean energy (fuel) sources and expected efficiencies in the manufacturing process will reduce the EV environmental footprint significantly by today’s standards. However, what is increasingly apparent is that the footprint contribution from the production and processing of battery materials does not improve at a similar rate, and by the middle of the century will account for over half of the footprint of an EV. On the journey to a net zero future, that’s a serious sticking point.

Minviro has demonstrated that the impact of a battery pack can be reduced when low impact materials and processing methods are deployed. This is just one example of the innovation taking place in the sector. As new projects develop, raw materials are sourced, and alternative processing methods become economical, we can expect more solutions to come to the fore.

With the growing availability of renewable energy in many global regions, it could be that moving the processing of materials to these areas is one vital step. Enhanced recycling and adopting a circular economy approach is likely to be another. However, to effectively weigh up these options and strategies, the ability to benchmark and compare alternatives is key. 


How can sustainability be embedded in battery design?

Establishing best practice in understanding the full battery life cycle impact will make a real difference in doing this benchmarking. This involves carrying out assessments and planning to minimise environmental and societal impacts well before ore is extracted, metal is refined, active material processed, or a battery is assembled. However, at present, this activity is often treated more as a compliance activity post value chain design.

To tackle this, producers must integrate life cycle analysis (LCA) into the earliest stages of core operations. LCA studies enable emissions hotspots to be recognised early and tackled with the lowest cost or production impact on a project. Applying data-driven design and engineering solutions will better prepare battery manufacturers for the impacts of emissions reduction and the battery passport. 


What are the benefits of a battery passport?

The aforementioned implementation of legislation will ensure that best practices and LCA become more than best practice, but a real requirement of doing business – even though being sustainable is a key metric in which purchasing decisions are made. The European Battery Regulation, means participants across the battery value chain need to be braced for compliance. The most notable new measure is the introduction of a battery passport, an electronic digital product record containing information about the battery's performance in terms of technical and sustainability aspects. The passport opens up a whole new level of visibility regarding the environmental footprint of a final battery pack or contributing product, and proving - or improving – it, will be critical as electric vehicle manufacturers will require this information for each battery soon.

In this landscape, those who are yet to adopt LCAs are placing themselves at a serious disadvantage. Enhanced sightlines over supply chains can also come with the added benefit of driving cost reductions as improved visibility sheds light on inefficiencies. 


What is the future of battery impact?

With NGOs and governments closely watching the space, a full LCA approach offers a much better understanding of the trade-offs between carbon and other environmental impacts across the value chain. This should support legislators to develop better-informed policies in the future and minimise unintended consequences caused by a lack of oversight.

Most importantly, end customers are increasingly more aware of the impact of the choices that they make. When moving toward EV adoption, a large proportion do so in the belief that they are making a positive contribution to the planet. This additional level of transparency and clarity can have a real impact on their buying behaviours and a positive or very negative impact on their brand perceptions.

Capital deployment, consumer sentiment and market forces need to play out over the coming years as to what that price premium may be, but with ESG and sustainability concerns more prominent than ever, those who can lead the way in this space can be confident of reaping the rewards.



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