Carbon Footprint of Lithium-Ion Battery Production (vs Gasoline, Lead-Acid)

Georgette Kilgore headshot, wearing 8 Billion Trees shirt with forest in the background.Written by Georgette Kilgore

Carbon Offsets Credits | March 18, 2024

Man wonders what is the carbon footprint of lithium ion battery production while holding laptop and cellphone with produced lithium ion batteries carbon footprint.

The carbon footprint of lithium-ion battery production poses significant harm to the environment.

This environmental impact begins from the phase of lithium mining and continues well into the manufacturing process for these batteries.

Due to their effects on the environment, it is important that you learn about the carbon footprint of the lithium-ion batteries used in your electric vehicle (EV), phone, and tablet.

This helps you understand the environmental damage that you might be contributing to, and how you can erase those emissions using a family earth defenders carbon offset.

To assist you through this learning curve, this complete guide explains the carbon footprint of lithium-ion batteries in terms of their mining and production, as well as their comparison vs gasoline and lead-acid batteries.

The Carbon Footprint of Lithium-Ion Battery Production: Environmental Impact of Lithium Mining

Many people wonder about the carbon footprint of electric cars vs gasoline, and because of the footprint of the batteries used and the fossil fuels burned to generate electricity, the difference to the planet is negligible.

Lithium is a natural metal that is mined from the Earth. Precisely, modern mining methods for lithium consist of sourcing it from saltwater lakes, underground water, as well as underground clay or ores.

Once brine (saltwater) is extracted from lakes or groundwater storage (GSW) reservoirs, it is kept under sunlight for the water to slowly evaporate. This leaves dried natural salts as well as lithium particles behind.

Back of rechargeable lithium-ion battery for mobile phones.

(Image: Mika Baumeister28)

This process can take at least a year. While efforts have been made to mine lithium from seawater, they have not been successful due to significantly high costs.1

On the other hand, extracting underground clay or ores requires the mined elements to go through a detailed refinement process. In order to extract these elements from the earth, mines are built across lithium-rich areas.2

Apart from its medicinal properties, lithium is utilized to manufacture lithium-ion batteries that are used in a variety of applications including consumer electronics and EVs. While these applications power communication devices and modern methods of transport, the environmental impact of lithium-ion batteries cannot be denied.

No matter which of the current mining processes are used for lithium, the Earth’s natural resources, flora and fauna, get affected during it.

This happens due to the production of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases (GHGs) that get released into the environment during the lithium mining process. This makes the environmental impact of lithium mining to be quite significant.3

The production of these batteries as well as their supply chain management contributes to this impact even further.

Once lithium-ion batteries have served their purpose, their disposal poses yet another challenge for the planet’s environment. This creates a direct connection between lithium-ion batteries and climate change.

Since almost everyone who uses modern devices now benefits from lithium-ion batteries in some shape or form, it is crucial for you to learn about the carbon footprint of lithium-ion batteries’ production and manufacturing processes.

This information not only helps you understand the impact that your cell phone, tablet, and EV is having on the environment but also lets you take proper measures to mitigate the involved risks to the planet.

Apart from assimilating the environmental impact of lithium-ion batteries vs gasoline and lead-acid batteries, it also allows you to know more about the societal, ecological, and geological harm that the practice brings to the table.

From there, it becomes easier for you to use tools such as a carbon calculator. You can also use a more specific tool like a car calculator which will help you determine how much carbon emissions your car releases whenever in use.

The tools will help you understand the effects that this seemingly clean source of power is having on Earth and its many inhabitants.

Along With the Carbon Footprint of Lithium Mining: Slavery and a Devastating Legacy Refers to the Social Impact of Lithium-Ion Batteries

Reading the phrase ‘lithium mining slavery’ might shock you at first. But the fact remains that the manufacturing of lithium-ion batteries has led to the occurrence of modern-day slavery.

This brutal affliction is not limited to adults but also impacts children who do not even know what is happening to them.

In Congo, children at age four are often put to work as slaves to extract cobalt,4 which is a crucial element in lithium-ion batteries.

At first, these children are tasked with spotting and picking any rocks that may have cobalt in them. From there, they carry out activities such as taking gathered rocks to distributors or even washing the ores that are extracted from the Earth.

Years pass by, and these children turn into adults and continue to find cobalt for the manufacturing of lithium-ion batteries.

In the same way that their parents accepted the forced norm of putting their children to work, these children-turned-adults continue that cycle. In turn, it leads to a never-ending loop of cobalt and lithium mining slavery that is inflicted upon them by external sources.

These accounts regarding the social impact of lithium-ion batteries have been confirmed by organizations such as Amnesty International.5

While a lawsuit against Big Tech companies including Apple and Tesla was filed in the U.S. on behalf of the children and families affected by these practices, it was dismissed in November 2021 due to the involvement of third parties in the supply chain management.6

This also shows that in addition to the carbon footprint of lithium-ion battery production, the practice also has a gruesome social impact on actual people as well as their present and future.7 This calls for an immediate restructuring of the way that lithium and other elements are mined for manufacturing lithium-ion batteries.

The Environmental Impact of Battery Production and Disposal: Key Battery Pollution Statistics

The environmental impact of lithium-ion batteries mostly comes from how the element is mined and distributed for the manufacturing processes of these batteries, but also in the disposal, which can leech dangerous chemicals into ground water. Whereas, the environmental impact of the production process depends upon the type of fuels being used to power the manufacturing equipment.

This involves the following practices as well as their related effects on the environment.

Lithium Mining Water Usage

In order to extract lithium from reservoirs of brine, a huge amount of saltwater is pumped out of the Earth.

According to estimates, mining a metric ton of lithium requires around 2 million liters of brine or saltwater from the ground.8 This makes lithium mining water use a huge problem.

Bird's eye view of the negative effects of mining on landforms like mountains.

(Image: Vlad Chețan29)

The overpumping of groundwater reservoirs surpasses the rate at which these reservoirs can replenish.9 GWS is essential to survival in areas where surface water supply is not available.

Since climate change directly affects the water cycle,10 this overpumping of GWS takes away a natural resource that is essential to life and also adds to CO2 levels in the environment.

Land Usage: How Bad Is Lithium Mining

In its natural form, open land is home to plants, trees, and forests. When we overtake a part of the land and lead to land-use change,11 it has an effect on natural forestry.

When trees get eliminated, Earth loses a major source of carbon sequestration which results in more CO2 being released into the Earth’s environment.12

Chile, which tops the list of countries with the world’s largest lithium reserves,13 lost around 56.8 kilo hectares of its natural forest in 2021 alone. This translates to 28.5 metric tons of CO2 equivalents (CO2-eq) in emissions.14

The second in the list of lithium mining countries is Australia, which lost 231 kilo hectares of its natural forest by 2021, leading to over 90.5 metric tons of CO2-eq in emissions.15

While it is easy to understand how bad is lithium mining and what leads to its battery pollution statistics, not all of this loss of forests occurred from lithium mining alone. But as lithium mining continues to contribute to land-use changes, these negative effects of deforestation would continue to plague these countries as well as the world with them.

Toxic Waste

The toxic waste that is produced from manufacturing lithium-ion batteries mainly stems from metals including cobalt and manganese. When these metals are disposed of into water, they turn drinking water and healthy land toxic.16

This depletes the Earth’s natural resources such as water reservoirs and natural forests. In turn, this has a huge impact on the communities that live nearby areas where lithium-ion batteries are disposed of.

This also contributes to CO2 levels in the environment. Due to this reason, it is essential that proper measures are taken for lithium-ion battery recycling.

Fossil Fuel Usage

When comparing lithium mining vs fossil fuels, lithium-ion batteries can store more power and have a lengthy life cycle, which makes them a good choice for those who want to emit less CO2 through their energy use to power their devices and cars. However, their production is often reliant on fossil fuels such as coal, which adds to their overall carbon footprint.

Close-up of lithium-ion battery during one of the steps in its manufacturing process.

(Image: Kumpan Electric30)

It also needs to be noted that most of the lithium-ion batteries in the world are produced in China, which has a carbon footprint that exceeds all developed nations put together.17 This is mainly because China relies on coal as an energy source, which is a fossil fuel that has a high carbon footprint.18

As a result, when lithium-ion batteries are made in China, they leave a significant carbon footprint in their wake.

The Life Cycle Energy Consumption and Greenhouse Gas Emissions From Lithium-Ion Batteries

The life cycle energy consumption of lithium-ion batteries differs due to a variety of factors. These include but are not limited to the following.

  • Battery materials: This refers to the elements such as cobalt that are used to make the battery.

  • Battery design: This speaks to the battery size and its overall product design to store the needed energy.

  • Battery modeling: This outlines the way that the battery is modeled for specific applications.

  • Battery manufacture: This highlights the overall manufacturing practices used to produce the battery.

Out of all of these factors, some studies suggest that the largest emissions in a lithium-ion battery’s life cycle occur during its manufacturing process and go as high as 50 percent of its total emissions. But many studies have not been able to get a precise estimate of the carbon footprint of lithium-ion battery production.19

Instead, these estimates provide you with a wide range of possible emissions that are measured in CO2-eq.

While this makes it difficult to pinpoint the amount of CO2-eq that is produced during the life cycle of a lithium-ion battery, understanding the life cycle energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions from lithium-ion batteries does give you some idea about the impact of batteries on the environment.20

Analysis of the Climate Impact of Lithium-Ion Batteries and How To Measure It

The analysis of the climate impact of lithium-ion batteries and how to measure it has been a fiery question for a variety of environmentalists. But along with the lack of studies, the different methods to calculate the environmental effect of lithium-ion batteries makes it difficult to reach clear figures.

For instance, the lithium-ion battery manufacturing process is said to have a 50 percent carbon footprint out of the entire life cycle of the battery.18

But if earlier components of the process such as refining the materials and grading the battery are combined, they have the same carbon footprint of total emissions from the battery. This creates different ranges to determine the harmful effects of batteries on the environment.

Different kinds of batteries

(Image: Didgeman31)

These processes make it difficult for environmentalists and data scientists to perform an analysis of the climate impact of lithium-ion batteries and how to measure it.

With that being said, different ranges are still available that can help you get an idea of how much the lithium-ion battery in your shiny new device or EV is harming the environment.

CO2 Emissions: Lithium-Ion Battery Production and Usage Calculator vs Lead-Acid and Gasoline

Before you move forward with tracking down the emissions from the production of lithium-ion batteries vs gasoline and lead-acid batteries, it is important to understand the metrics used in these estimates.

Carbon Footprint of Lithium-Ion Battery Production

Since there is no precise way to determine the actual emissions of the production of a lithium-ion battery, the following calculations use the upper and lower ranges of CO2-eq emissions from lithium-ion battery production.

Modern EVs have a lithium-ion battery capacity of around 30 kWh – 200 kWh. This figure refers to the hours that the EV can run on a consistent basis after a full charge.

For instance, a 30 kWh battery can keep a vehicle running for approximately 30 hours which means mileage from this runtime itself depends on a number of factors and varies according to the vehicle type and model.

With this in mind, here is a calculator outlining different capacities for lithium-ion battery technology,21 as well as their estimates for low, medium, and high range CO2-eq emissions.19,20

Battery Capacity Low Range Medium Range High Range
General – 1 kWh 40 kilogram of CO2-eq 150 kilogram of CO2-eq 200 kilogram of CO2-eq
EV – 30 kWh 1.2 metric ton of CO2-eq 4.5 metric tons of CO2-eq 6 metric tons of CO2-eq
EV – 60 kWh 2.4 metric tons of CO2-eq 9 metric tons of CO2-eq 12 metric tons of CO2-eq
EV – 80 kWh 3.2 metric tons of CO2-eq 10.2 metric tons of CO2-eq 16 metric tons of CO2-eq
EV – 160 kWh 6.4 metric tons of CO2-eq 24 metric tons of CO2-eq 32 metric tons of CO2-eq
EV – 200 kWh 8 metric tons of CO2-eq 30 metric tons of CO2-eq 40 metric tons of CO2-eq

On the other hand, the carbon footprint of lithium-ion battery for manufacturing cell phones and tablets is much lower. You can determine this by dividing the battery’s CO2-eq by milliampere-hour (mAH).22

On an average basis, modern mobile devices have a CO2-eq of 14 mg per mAh which means that if your smartphone has a 4000mAh battery, it would have an estimated CO2-eq of 56 kg.23

Tablet, smartphone, and stylus on the table.

(Image: PhotoMIX-Company32)

However, these estimates are not set in stone and only give you a range of what to expect from the carbon footprint of lithium-ion battery production. With that being said, they do provide you with a general idea of what it took for the environment for you to have your EVs and mobile devices.

What Is the Carbon Footprint of a Lithium-Ion Battery Compared to Carbon Footprint of Car Battery and Carbon Footprint of Lead-Acid Battery and Gasoline?

Lead-acid batteries are quite affordable to produce, which makes them a highly economical source of energy around the world.

But as compared to a lithium-ion battery that has a longer life cycle and no tailpipe emissions, the usage of a lead-acid battery in a gasoline-powered vehicle can produce 13.5 times higher carbon footprint.24 This makes the carbon footprint of lead-acid battery worse than a lithium-ion battery for the environment.

On the other hand, where an EV has no tailpipe emissions, a gasoline vehicle with any type of battery emits CO2.

This means that after an EV has been manufactured, its carbon emissions depend upon the type of energy that is being used to charge it. Whereas, a gasoline vehicle will emit CO2 for every minute that it drives on the road.

Looking further into the environmental impact of emerging electric vehicle technology, the carbon emissions of an EV also depend upon the region that it is being driven in and the type of energy that is used in that specific area. But for a gasoline vehicle, tailpipe and CO2 emissions are a given, regardless of which part of the world it is driving in.

As an example, a 2022 Tesla Model X in New York City has a carbon emission of 110g/mi.25 But if you estimate the usage of the same car across the U.S. where mixed electricity is the main source of power, its carbon emission rises to 140g/mi.

On the other hand, a new gasoline vehicle on average would create total emissions of 410g/mi. You can also perform these calculations for different EVs by using this calculator for the carbon footprint of electric cars vs gasoline and if you rent cars whenever you travel you can look at the different methods for carbon offset car rental.

Lady standing next to an electric motorcycle using a lithium-ion battery.

(Image: Kumpan Electric33)

In turn, even after causing significant environmental impact during its manufacturing process, the overall emissions for a lithium-ion battery and the vehicle that it powers remain more environmentally friendly.

This means that we should be working on reducing the harm that is caused to the environment during lithium-ion battery production instead of reverting to gasoline vehicles that are powered by lead-acid batteries.

This can lead to a future of lithium mining that is significantly more considerate of the planet and its inhabitants.

Mitigating the Hazards of Lithium Mining and the Harmful Effects of Batteries on the Environment

Instead of using practices that excessively utilize the natural resources of the planet which add to its CO2 emissions, certain measures can mitigate the biggest hazards of lithium mining.25 This refers to the following changes to reduce the environmental impact of battery production and disposal.

Providing Proper Resources to Lithium Mining Countries

Lithium mining countries such as Chile suffer from deforestation and excessive usage of water, which adds to the carbon footprint of lithium mining.

On the other hand, countries such as Australia use energy-intensive processes to extract lithium from ores, which also contributes to carbon emissions that are otherwise avoidable.26

By participating in carbon offsets purchase programs, promoting research into using seawater for lithium extraction, and looking into projects that extract lithium from geothermal waters,26 lithium mining companies can reduce the CO2 emissions lithium-ion battery production brings to the table.

Related Reading: Car Rental Carbon Offsets Calculator: Get Your Precise Offset for any Rental Company

Shallow Cycling of Batteries

A longer life cycle for a lithium-ion battery translates to a lesser impact on the environment. This means that if the battery can store more energy and power its device for an extensive period of time, its overall CO2 emissions would reduce in the long run.

In turn, you not only benefit from devices and EVs that can run for longer but also become more environmentally friendly by cutting down battery manufacturing energy consumption.

According to research, shallow cycling lithium-ion batteries at a 50 percent charge can lead to longer battery life.27 This fulfills the goals mentioned above and allows you to utilize more power from your battery against every purchase.

Reduced production of new batteries can then help in curbing the environmental impact of lithium mining and battery production.

Ensuring Proper Disposal of Batteries

The toxic waste that escapes into water streams through the inefficient disposal of lithium-ion batteries has a significant impact on the environment.

In addition to reducing water resources for human consumption, it also contributes to affecting the lives of flora and fauna.

Lithium-Ion batteries collected for proper disposal.

(Image: John Cameron34)

By looking into proper disposal of batteries, you can safely dispose of your lithium-ion batteries through recycling programs or designated points of waste collection.

On the other hand, industrial stakeholders can also pay more attention to these practices and ensure that they are not contributing to the CO2 emissions lithium-ion battery production brings to the surface in the first place.

Using Clean Energy To Power Zero-Emission Cars

Once a lithium-ion battery is produced and used in an EV, it doesn’t have any tailpipe emissions. Instead, its carbon emissions come from the type of energy that it is used to power or charge.

This means that if you use clean energy to charge your vehicle, your electric car battery pollution poses little to no threat to the environment. Due to this reason, it is important that you opt for clean energy options whenever possible.

As an individual, you can also talk to your local government representatives to push for renewable energy initiatives. When you power your vehicle using these resources, it can cut down the total emissions of your EV and the environmental impact of batteries.

Envisioning a Better Future of Lithium Mining: Water Use, Land Use, and Sustainability

By reducing water and land use as well as promoting the use of sustainable practices, the bad/harmful effects of batteries can be mitigated to a significant extent. This ensures you can use your modern devices and zero-emission cars without a neverending burden on your conscience.

Lithium-Ion Batteries Are Important for the Environment?

Environmental awareness is crucial, and if we all work together, we can undoubtedly do more in terms of preserving our environment. Finding any carbon offset organizations or getting involved in the planting of carbon offset trees can make a significant difference in the fight against climate change.

Even when a lithium-ion battery poses significant carbon emissions during its mining and manufacturing, it is still better than gasoline and lead-acid batteries that continue to harm the environment during their usage.

Keeping this in mind, we can focus on reducing the carbon footprint of lithium-ion battery production through carbon offset planning and other environmentally friendly measures.

Frequently Asked Questions About Carbon Footprint of Lithium-Ion Battery Production

With the Increase of Electric Car Battery Pollution, What Are the Environmental Impacts of Lithium-Ion Batteries in Electric Vehicles?

The environmental impacts of lithium-ion batteries in electric vehicles include water usage, land-use change, ecological modifications, and greenhouse gas emissions.

If You Compare Lithium Mining vs Fossil Fuels, What Is the Environmental Impact of Batteries vs Non-Renewable Energy?

While the hazards of lithium mining can cause significant harm to the environment during its production, it is still more environmentally friendly than fossil fuels. The highest CO2 generated from lithium-ion battery manufacturing comes from the production process, a majority of which is powered by the burning of fossil fuels.20

What Is the Carbon Footprint of Charging Phone?

The carbon footprint of charging phone depends upon the type of electricity that you are using. For instance, if you are using renewable energy, you would cause little to no greenhouse gas emissions.

What Is the Carbon Footprint of Car Battery?

The carbon footprint of car battery depends upon the type of battery that you are using. The majority of CO2-eq emissions are caused during the manufacturing process of the battery itself.20

How Much Fuel Is Used To Mine Lithium?

There is no set number to determine how much fuel is used to mine lithium. With that being said, even when lithium mining creates carbon emissions through the use of diesel fuel for mining equipment, the lithium-ion batteries that are produced through this process emit less greenhouse gas emissions than any other type of battery in the market.20

What Are the Bad/Harmful Effects of Batteries and How Do Batteries and Climate Change Relate to One Another?

Modern battery manufacturing practices involve activities such as mining for minerals from the Earth which leads to GHG emissions through water usage and land-use change. When batteries are manufactured, the process can also contribute to more GHG emissions by burning fossil fuels.20

What Is the Environmental Impact of Lithium-Ion Batteries vs the Carbon Footprint of AA Battery?

The environmental impact of lithium-ion batteries comes from the process of mining materials and the production of fossil fuels during their manufacturing activities. Typically, this ranges from 40-200 kg per kWh while the carbon footprint of an AA battery is approximately 0.107 kilogram of CO2-eq for each AA battery.35

What Is the Environmental Impact of Emerging Electric Vehicle Technology?

The environmental impact of emerging electric vehicle technology mainly depends on how lithium-ion batteries are produced and what type of energy is used to charge these vehicles afterward. This can lead to deforestation and water consumption for mining lithium, and the creation of even more greenhouse gases during the battery manufacturing process but if EV owners use renewable energy, it cuts down their carbon emissions to a minimal level.

If You Evaluate the Environmental Impact of Lithium Mining vs Oil, Is Lithium Mining Worse Than Oil Drilling?

Lithium mining does have an environmental impact, but it is no worse than oil drilling. This is especially true when you consider the carbon emissions produced from petroleum products during their usage, as compared to lithium-ion batteries that have little to no GHG emissions during their use.25

Is Lithium Mining Worse Than Coal Mining?

While lithium mining has negative effects on the environment, the lithium that is extracted during the process makes for long-lasting batteries that can help reduce our GHG emissions. On the other hand, coal mining not only creates GHG emissions during the mining process but also contributes to GHG emissions when the coal is utilized or burned, leading to the production of CO2.

Read More About Carbon Footprint of Lithium-Ion Battery Production


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