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Understanding the global impacts of electric vehicles

Project topic description

The transition to a low-carbon economy is well underway and accelerating across the globe. However, within the western world, low-emission energy and transportation systems, such as electric vehicles (EV), are more material-intensive compared to their fossil-fuel counterparts. Significant rises in the consumption of these materials are predicted, such as lithium (965%) and cobalt (585%) by 2050, which increases the associated environmental stresses further. To deeply decarbonise these transportation systems, downstream users need to be able to understand the environmental performance of their supply chains both backwards and forwards in a product or service life cycle. However, it is emerging that future decisions for the supply chain will also need to factor in economic and social factors, which may have difficult and/or unforeseen consequences. An example of this is the reduction of artisanal cobalt mining in Africa; whilst child labour is a clear negative for EV manufacturing, if cobalt became fully recycled within the UK, what would happen to those people who rely on that mining for their economic income? In order to build a sustainable and low impact system that benefits all stakeholders, manufacturing processes need optimising, materials need ethically sourcing and products should be built using circular economy principles. Multi-criteria decision aiding (MCDA) could provide a framework to systematically measure, model and predict the impacts of supply chains in a dynamic manner, responding to shifts in the market (whether environmental, geo-political and/or socio-economic) and combining the mix of qualitative and quantitative datasets that are often found when analysing economic, environmental, or social factors in isolation. This project seeks to contextualise this approach to develop a new framework for EV production to assist with the continued sustainable development of battery technology and its supply chain from mine site to recycling facility.

Applicant profile

As the project aims to investigate sustainability from an economic, environmental, and social perspective, this project would be suitable for applicants from either a STEM or Social Science background. Applicants would ideally have a strong interest in researching and communicating about sustainability, specifically surrounding the use and interpretation of large data sets. Some specific experience in any of the following would be of use, but is not essential:

  • Big Data/AI
  • Global Sustainability
  • Industrial Ecology
  • Life Cycle Assessment
  • Life Cycle Costing
  • Multi Criteria Decision Aiding
  • Supply Chains
Supervisory team
Dr Stuart Coles, WMG

Stuart Coles is Associate Professor & Head of Life Cycle Assessment in the Sustainable Materials and Manufacturing group at WMG, with research interests in understanding how to conduct sustainability assessments in an effective, holistic manner whilst making the results accessible to stakeholders. Previous projects include the life cycle assessment of lithium-ion batteries and the sustainability assessment of nanoparticle synthesis using multi-criteria decision aiding.

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Dr Frederik Dahlmann, Warwick Business School

Frederik Dahlmann is Associate Professor of Strategy and Sustainability at Warwick Business School. His research interests focus on understanding how companies respond to and integrate global sustainability challenges such as the UN SDGs into their business strategies, management practices and corporate governance systems. Specifically, he examines how companies address climate change and reduce corporate carbon emissions across their organisations and supply chains, their engagement with multiple sustainability challenges such as the energy-food-water nexus, and the role of sustainable business models in driving industry transformation.

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Professor Kerry Kirwan, WMG

Kerry Kirwan is Deputy Pro-Vice Chancellor (Research) for the University of Warwick, a Trustee of The Alan Turing Institute and Chair of Sustainable Materials and Manufacturing at WMG. He is a specialist in Circular Economy, sustainable materials and industrial applications with extensive experience of developing environmentally friendly solutions for global application within numerous sectors

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External mentorship
Dr Evi Petavratzi, British Geological Survey

Evi Petavratzi is Senior Mineral Commodity Geologist at the British Geological Survey (BGS), with over 13 years of working experience in industry, academia and the public sector. At BGS, her research is in the field of security of supply and the circular economy, with a focus on decarbonisation and resource management. She has been involved in several multidisciplinary projects in the areas of critical raw materials, material flow analysis and the enhancement of the European knowledge base for raw materials.