Can the auto industry meet ambitious COP26 pledges?

A declaration at the Glasgow climate conference that seeks to phase out sales of petrol and diesel vehicles by 2040 would mean more than a thirty-fold increase in annual electric vehicle battery demand and a substantial increase in raw material requirements, according to analysis by Benchmark Mineral Intelligence.

The signatories to the Glasgow declaration, which included General Motors, Volvo, Ford and Mercedes-Benz, said they would “work towards” all sales of new cars and vans being zero emission globally by 2040, and no later than 2035 in “leading markets.”

If the target is achieved globally it would mean a substantial increase in demand for battery raw materials such as lithium and nickel, according to Benchmark Mineral Intelligence.

Benchmark estimates that if all cars and vans sold in 2040 were electric it would represent almost 8,400 GWh of lithium ion battery demand. In reality, this target will be difficult to meet, with Benchmark already forecasting 6,200 GWh of battery demand from the entire electric vehicle market in 2040.

To meet the goals set out in the COP26 Glasgow declaration by 2040 would require over 7 million tonnes of lithium (LCE) annually, which is 17 times more than lithium chemical production in 2021, according to Benchmark’s Lithium Forecast.

It would also require over 5 million tonnes of nickel sulphate, which Benchmark’s Nickel Forecast shows is 19 times more than nickel sulphate production in 2021.

At the moment there is insufficient investment into raw material supply to meet battery demand in 2030 let alone 2040, Simon Moores, CEO of Benchmark Mineral Intelligence, said.

“Right now lithium demand is growing at three times the speed of lithium supply,” he said. “That’s a big problem that needs to be solved.”

While building a battery cell production facility can take two years, it takes a minimum of five years to bring on a new lithium mine.

In the declaration released on Wednesday the signatories to the Glasgow pledge, which included several car companies and 33 countries, said they would work to “overcome strategic, political, and technical barriers,” to accelerate the production of zero emission vehicles.

The other automakers to sign the pledge included China’s BYD and Jaguar Land Rover.

Cities including New York and states including California also pledged to convert their owned or leased car and van fleets to zero emission vehicles by 2035 “at the latest.”

However while large countries such as India signed the declaration, China, Japan and the US abstained.

Some of the world’s largest carmakers including Volkswagen, Toyota and the NissanRenault alliance, also did not sign the agreement.

This summer Volkswagen pledged that 50 per cent of its cars will be battery-electric by 2030 and 100% in “major markets” by 2040.

The Glasgow declaration “needs to be backed up with actual targets set down in law,” green group Transport & Environment (T&E) said in a statement.

“With China, the US, Germany and France absent, it will take more than a non-binding declaration to clean up the largest source of transport pollution,” T&E said.

By Henry Sanderson and Robert Colbourn

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