India must embrace sustainable EV value chain to achieve net zero goals: Arthur D. Little study

As per the study, India is projected to have 10 million EVs on the road by 2030.

Electric Vehicles
Electric Vehicles (Image used for representative purposes only)

Battery-powered electric vehicles have been hailed as clean vehicles that will transform mobility and significantly reduce transportation’s harmful impact on the environment. They can be more ecofriendly compared to conventional internal combustion engine-based vehicles throughout its lifetime. A study by Arthur D. Little indicates that it is necessary to understand the nuanced environmental and social risks of the EV supply chain to keep India’s 2030 Vision and Net Zero goals on track.

The study in their Viewpoint series, “Towards a Sustainable Value Chain for Electric Vehicles in India” analyzes the risks and recommends an integrated approach to tackle the challenges to sustainability in the EV value chain thus making an electric vehicle cleaner and eco-friendly over its lifetime. 

India is projected to have 10 million EVs on the road by 2030 and similarly many nations have made tremendous progress in the EV space driven by demand for cleaner transportation. But the risks of permanent ecological damage from air, water, and soil pollution, poor waste management, and human rights issues arising from the e-mobility value chain still needs to be addressed. The report stresses on the need to lay the foundation to a sustainable EV value chain right from the start as India builds its electric mobility capabilities to cater its EV demand.

While the vehicles themselves provide for zero “tailpipe” emissions, the battery comes with hazards that are all too often overlooked such as being made from scarce raw materials mined in an unsustainable manner risking human lives, having an unfavorable CO2 footprint in manufacturing, and being tough to recycle. The viewpoint even explores on the rare earth metals used in the e-motors which are usually unethical sourced and has carbon-intensive production.

Mainly during the vehicle use phase, EVs are only as green as the electric energy used to charge the vehicle, which in India, most of the time comes from burning coal and therefore releases greenhouse gases after all.  According to a 2022 Nature journal, the use of coal power substantially increases the ecological footprint of an EV over its lifetime, with just ~5% GHG reduction compared to the lifetime emissions from a typical gasoline car sold in India

Mr. Barnik Maitra, Managing Partner, Arthur D. Little (India), says, “India can and must counter the ecological footprint of the rapidly growing EV value chain. Embracing ethical sourcing of raw material for batteries, using renewable energy for charging and investing in development of new technologies for cleaner energy production will be key for success on the journey to Net Zero.”

The study recommends seven sustainable solutions from both the regulatory and industry perspectives to help counter the ecological footprint across the EV value chain. It proposes for policies that penalize sourcing from unregulated businesses and building refining infrastructure in India. India should focus on developing newer battery chemistries and e-motor technologies to lessen the burden on few select natural resources.

The study further highlights how both the government and the industry should prioritize sourcing renewable energy for charging and manufacturing. For batteries at the end of their life, the report proposes that battery manufacturing could be done with “recycling and reuse” in mind, making designs easy to dismantle and modify. Finally, the industry needs to integrate the EV value chain to promote information sharing and enable smart and sustainable solutions.

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First published on: 28-02-2023 at 18:10 IST
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