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Life-Cycle Assessment Considerations for Batteries and Battery Materials

Abstract

Rechargeable batteries are necessary for the decarbonization of the energy systems, but life-cycle environmental impact assessments have not achieved consensus on the environmental impacts of producing these batteries. Nonetheless, life cycle assessment (LCA) is a powerful tool to inform the development of better-performing batteries with reduced environmental burden. This review explores common practices in lithium-ion battery LCAs and makes recommendations for how future studies can be more interpretable, representative, and impactful. First, LCAs should focus analyses of resource depletion on long-term trends toward more energy and resource-intensive material extraction and processing rather than treating known reserves as a fixed quantity being depleted. Second, future studies should account for extraction and processing operations that deviate from industry best-practices and may be responsible for an outsized share of sector-wide impacts, such as artisanal cobalt mining. Third, LCAs should explore at least 2–3 battery manufacturing facility scales to capture size- and throughput-dependent impacts such as dry room conditioning and solvent recovery. Finally, future LCAs must transition away from kg of battery mass as a functional unit and instead make use of kWh of storage capacity and kWh of lifetime energy throughput.

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