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Circular economy strategies for electric vehicle batteries reduce reliance on raw materials

Lookup NU author(s): Joris Baars, Professor Oliver Heidrich



This is the authors' accepted manuscript of an article that has been published in its final definitive form by Nature Publishing Group, 2021.

For re-use rights please refer to the publisher's terms and conditions.


© 2020, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature Limited. The wide adoption of lithium-ion batteries used in electric vehicles will require increased natural resources for the automotive industry. The expected rapid increase in batteries could result in new resource challenges and supply-chain risks. To strengthen the resilience and sustainability of automotive supply chains and reduce primary resource requirements, circular economy strategies are needed. Here we illustrate how these strategies can reduce the extraction of primary raw materials, that is, cobalt supplies. Material flow analysis is applied to understand current and future flows of cobalt embedded in electric vehicle batteries across the European Union. A reference scenario is presented and compared with four strategies: technology-driven substitution and technology-driven reduction of cobalt, new business models to stimulate battery reuse/recycling and policy-driven strategy to increase recycling. We find that new technologies provide the most promising strategies to reduce the reliance on cobalt substantially but could result in burden shifting such as an increase in nickel demand. To avoid the latter, technological developments should be combined with an efficient recycling system. We conclude that more-ambitious circular economy strategies, at both government and business levels, are urgently needed to address current and future resource challenges across the supply chain successfully.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Baars J, Domenech T, Bleischwitz R, Melin HE, Heidrich O

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Nature Sustainability

Year: 2021

Volume: 4

Pages: 71-79

Print publication date: 01/01/2021

Online publication date: 07/09/2020

Acceptance date: 04/08/2020

Date deposited: 22/01/2021

ISSN (electronic): 2398-9629

Publisher: Nature Publishing Group


DOI: 10.1038/s41893-020-00607-0


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