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  • Writer's pictureMatthew Wright

Balancing the Surge in Electric SUV Popularity with Environmental Sustainability

The electric vehicle (EV) landscape has witnessed a significant shift in recent years, particularly in the realm of SUVs. In 2019, 30% of available EV models worldwide were SUVs, and fast forward to 2023, that figure has risen to 45%, equivalent to the combined share of small and medium-sized car options. However, the growing size and weight of these electric SUVs pose environmental challenges, primarily in the realms of battery production and power infrastructure.

The shift towards larger electric SUVs has led to an increased demand for bigger batteries. Larger vehicles necessitate more substantial power storage, resulting in batteries double the size of those in smaller EVs. These batteries rely on raw materials such as cobalt, lithium, and nickel, and a standard 60 kWh lithium-ion battery pack for an electric SUV can comprise up to 75% more minerals, including 39kg of nickel and 5kg of lithium, than those for smaller vehicles.

The surge in demand for EV batteries, particularly for SUVs, raises concerns about potential shortages in raw materials. Predictions suggest that by 2030, there could be a 55% deficit in lithium and 8% less nickel and manganese than needed to meet the demand for EV batteries. This raises questions about the sustainability of the supply chain and the environmental impact of extracting more raw materials.

Mining activities for these raw materials have been associated with negative environmental effects. For instance, lithium mining in Chile's Salar de Atacama has been linked to disturbances in flamingo breeding sites and a reduction in the birds' access to food and water. The expansion of mining operations to support the growing SUV market could exacerbate habitat destruction, excessive water consumption, and threats to biodiversity.

The production of larger batteries for electric SUVs is also a highly carbon-intensive process. The CO₂ emissions resulting from materials processing and battery manufacturing can soar to levels 70% higher for electric SUVs compared to smaller EVs. This highlights the environmental trade-offs associated with the increasing size of electric vehicles.

Charging larger batteries, especially with the growing demand for electric SUVs, poses challenges to power grids. The need for increased low-carbon electricity supply may strain existing grids, especially during peak demand periods. The evolution of energy sources towards decentralisation, such as wind turbines and solar panels, adds complexity to grid infrastructure.

As the popularity of large electric SUVs grows, so do the environmental considerations. The relentless demand for battery materials and electricity prompts a critical evaluation of the long-term sustainability of these vehicles. The question remains whether SUVs, given their impact on raw material supply chains and power grids, will continue to be a viable green option. Striking a balance between EV adoption and environmental sustainability requires careful consideration of the entire lifecycle of these vehicles, from raw material extraction to battery production and energy consumption.

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