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Impact on Energy System
Electric vehicles will need to be charged from the grid, which may create as much as a 20 to 38% increase in electricity demand by 2050 (7). In developed countries, this should provide revenue for utilities to accelerate transformation to a grid-connected renewable energy system with extensive energy storage and to digital energy management. In developing countries, the increased electricity demand could spur the first-time installation of modern grids that are unencumbered by the legacy of the older, less functional grids of the developed world. Beyond electricity, electric vehicles require a massive rollout of charging stations, which could stimulate local economic and job growth.
Impact on Geoeconomics
The electrification of transportation is a watershed moment in energy economics. For more than a century, oil has been the lifeblood of transportation, and the oil industry has grown steadily as transportation has expanded with industrialization and rising standards of living. But oil is abundant in relatively few countries, and these countries assume outsized geoeconomic importance because oil for transportation is a critical societal need. By contrast, sunlight and wind are available everywhere, and electricity generation is mostly a domestic enterprise. The electrification of transportation means that oil will lose one of its critical markets—and with it some of its international economic and political power.
One of the most promising and disruptive battery innovations is the combination of lithium metal anodes and solid-state electrolytes. Every atom of a lithium metal anode can store and release energy during the charge-discharge cycle, whereas in graphite anodes now used in lithium-ion batteries, only 14% of the atoms (one lithium for every six carbons) can store or release energy. The greater capacity of the lithium metal anode could approximately double the energy density of the lithium-ion battery, extending the driving range of electric vehicles to compete with gasoline cars.
Material Supply Chains
Lithium, cobalt, manganese, nickel, and graphite are essential for battery technology, and some of these elements are found in only a few places in the world, not unlike oil (11, 12). The expected rapid increase in electric vehicle sales could threaten the supply chains for lithium, cobalt, and graphite in the short term because of the time required to ramp up new materials production and the relative scarcity of geographic sources. In the longer term, there are adequate resources in Earth’s crust if lithium-ion batteries are recycled. Currently, less than 5% of Li-ion batteries are recycled, compared to more than 99.5% of lead-acid batteries. (13) Research and development to develop Li-ion battery recycling technology is an urgent need.