Study: Smaller EV batteries would lessen lithium-mining mess

Reducing the size of EV batteries and generally lowering levels of car ownership and use could have a significant environmental impact, according to a new study.

The study, commissioned by the Climate and Community Project, a climate policy think tank, used UC Davis research (first spotted by Green Car Congress). It found that limiting the size of EV batteries while maintaining current U.S. levels of car ownership could cut lithium demand by as much as 42%. It also found that, if car ownership and use were reduced, lithium demand could be lowered 18% to 66%.

Lithium demand for U.S. light-duty vehicles (from Climate and Community Project study)

Lithium demand for U.S. light-duty vehicles (from Climate and Community Project study)


Reducing lithium demand would limit pollution from mining, and provide benefits both political and economical. Lithium has become part of an energy security debate in the U.S., which now imports large quantities of the mineral after letting its production falter.

Smaller battery packs could also help stabilize EV prices. After several years of price declines, the cost per kwh for batteries is now hampering EV affordability thanks to a raw material price surge.

Audi battery assembly at Brussels, Belgium, factory

Audi battery assembly at Brussels, Belgium, factory

Range is an obsession and a red herring in EV discussions, and with the infrastructure improving by the day, EVs don’t necessarily need bigger and bigger packs. Getting consumers to accept that may be difficult—although the idea of minimizing battery packs has more of a change with fleet vehicles, perhaps even incorporating battery swapping.

It may be more of a stretch, but another study suggests that bigger batteries could lead to a big boost in particulate emissions, owing to their extra weight causing increased tire wear. Added weight has never been a good thing for cars, at any rate.

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