Introduction: Demand for Mobility
As transportation options have become more available over the past century, the number of road vehicles, airplanes, and ships have increased in number around the world. Cities have been designed or remodeled with transportation in mind: highways, public transit, parking, etc, while entire countries have their economies based on travel and tourism. The vast majority of transport options in the last century have been fossil-fuel based, and recently their share of the market has been encroached steadily first by hybrids, and now electric vehicles, with calls to find alternative options for vessels and aircraft too.
This comes as a result of global policies responding to the threat of climate change, where excessive carbon emissions are responsible for the degradation of the planet’s environmental systems. One of the reasons for our overproduction of carbon is the transport sector, which in 2020 produced 7.3 billion metric tons of CO2, roughly 41% of which were from personal vehicles. Global policymakers have made it clear that the transportation sector must be overhauled – and this means changing how we interact with transport just as much as providing new low carbon alternatives.
Shift to Electric Vehicles
“We are sold out of electric cars because the demand is higher than we expected initially,” explains Volkswagen CEO Herbert Diess to The Guardian, saying that the German auto manufacturing giant was caught by surprise at how fast companies like Tesla have grown, and the subsequent rising demand for EVs. This shift to electric transport and mobility is driven by both a need to reduce carbon emissions and mitigate climate change, but also a push by consumers embracing sustainable alternatives. The fact that over 40% of global transport emissions are from personal vehicles highlights how the sector may be able to drastically reduce its impact.
This shift to electric has also seen the rise of EVs for public transport and micro-mobility, but has also highlighted the need for not just more efficient vehicles, but also more efficient supply chains. While most components in an EV are similar to its fossil-fuel counterpart, there is one key element that differs: the power source. In a traditional vehicle it would be an engine combusting fuel, but for electric cars this is replaced by an array of lithium-ion batteries that feed power to the vehicle’s engine. Lithium, already present in consumer electronics, has become the go-to battery material for EVs, starting a ‘white gold’ rush of sorts that has manufacturers like Tesla openly discussing the need for a fully integrated supply chain.
Lithium & Sustainability
The transport sector’s shift to electric is fuelling demand for battery materials, as Mark Burton writes in the Financial Post, “Lithium’s price has surged fivefold in the past year, reflecting mounting worries about availability. For years, batteries and EVs have become cheaper to make as the technology improved and production stepped up. But now there’s a risk that rising costs of raw materials — and lithium in particular — could hobble the transition just as momentum picks up. The stakes are high for carmakers that are spending billions of dollars betting on a battery-powered future.”
In addition, the rising demand for lithium has shed a light on the issues associated with extraction, which have led the industry’s long term sustainability to be questioned. Luckily, there are opportunities for lithium extraction to be made more efficient while reducing the impact on the environment that the current status quo has. EnergyX’s LiTAS™ technology is proof of the push towards a sustainable form of lithium extraction, and how it can be integrated from brine to battery while also benefiting local communities.
Conclusion: Driving Sustainable Development
Globally, there has been a shift in the perception of how transport can be improved to serve both the individual and the planet. Combined with new policies aimed at reducing emissions, there is a clear pathway to a low-carbon future where transport can be redefined using electric vehicles and sustainable supply chains. This is bolstered by the developments of new technology, changing consumer demands, and general willingness from the industry to adapt and change. The transport sector has one of the largest capacities of change and emissions reduction – and there is a blueprint available to them to reach their goals.