Crucially however, almost half (46%) did not feel they had enough information to make an informed decision about whether their next car or van should be a fully electric vehicle or not.
In spite of growing momentum behind the movement to reduce carbon emissions, the findings identified resistance to total EV adoption, driven by concerns over the environmental impact of inadequate battery recycling, continued issues with range and an overall lack of accessible information.
Our President Professor Tom Welton said: “After we heard that the Government is delaying its Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Strategy, this research shows there is much work to be done to fully convince the public at large of the merits of switching to fully electric vehicles – but more pressingly, that efforts to deliver critical infrastructure for both charging and recycling EV batteries should be a government priority. We must improve the flow of information around the government’s plans for transitioning to an entirely electric vehicle network, the ecosystem to support this and electric vehicles capabilities, all of which can help drivers to make informed purchasing decisions.
“We need to ensure adequate funding to enhance battery technology, both in use and at end of life. Not only will this ensure EVs go further and last longer, but it will lower the cost of grid electricity storage so we can better integrate renewable energy into the power system.”
Well over a third (40%) of drivers expressed concerns that EVs might have a negative impact on the environment, over half of whom (57%) worry there may be a lack of recycling options for electric vehicle batteries and 55% of whom are concerned by a shortage of the natural resources used to produce the batteries for EVs.
Meanwhile, a quarter (26%) of respondents who didn’t already own a full EV would feel more compelled to buy one by its ability to have a reduced impact on the environment.
This follows a third of all respondents (32%) stating they were unlikely to consider purchasing an EV upon learning that their batteries contain increasingly scarce and precious elements, and that these batteries are difficult and energy intensive to recycle, currently requiring them to be sent abroad. Almost two thirds (63%) would also support the UK Government providing funding for businesses to improve recycling facilities in the UK for used electric vehicle batteries.
Professor Welton continued: “In the decades to come we will have mountains of lithium-ion batteries that need recycling and we simply must not waste these valuable resources – for environmental and economic reasons. EV batteries contain precious elements such as lithium, cobalt and nickel – right now we should be planning how to keep reusing these limited resources and minimise the environmental impact of mining.
“It is easy to think of EVs and petrol vehicles purely in black and white terms, but in reality, propulsion technology in any form will make some form of environmental impact at some point in its life cycle – from manufacturing to disposal.
“There is a huge opportunity for us to significantly decrease this impact by enhancing the sustainability of this technology at the design phase. Crucially, that should be accompanied by an increase funding to prepare recycling infrastructure to process these materials here in the UK.”
More than a third of respondents who didn’t own an EV (37%) would be more motivated to buy a full EV if the distance they can travel on a charge is improved. Almost a third (30%) of respondents who do own an EV said when making a long-distance journey they have planned overnight stays so they can fully charge the vehicle for the next part of the journey; over a quarter (26%) of those making a long-distance journey have planned short stop-offs along the way where they can charge their electric vehicle; almost a quarter (24%) have also avoided making a long-distance journey to avoid charging anxiety.
The figures are revealed as part of the RSC’s work to enhance the development of the more powerful, efficient, safer and recyclable battery technology needed to fuel EVs and reach zero carbon status.
In July, our Emerging Technologies Competition 2021 awarded £20,000 funding and mentoring support to MagLiB, a research team based at University College London which has developed ground-breaking technology to significantly reduce the charging times of lithium-ion batteries. MagLiB’s technology has the potential to address reluctance and anxiety around charging point availability and vehicle range by substantially reducing the time spent occupying charging facilities.
We were invited to give evidence to the UK Government’s Environmental Audit Committee report into e-waste last year following the launch of its Precious Elements campaign which revealed that up to 40 million unused gadgets were stockpiled in people’s homes because they didn’t know how to dispose of them.
The recommendations outlined the importance of a ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ economy, called for incentives to design technology with sustainability in mind and highlighted the need for enhanced labelling. The recommendations have now been put to the government for possible inclusion in the new Environment Bill.
Chemical researchers in academia and industry are working to develop solutions and we are collaborating to communicate recommendations to policy makers.
All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from Ipsos MORI who surveyed a representative sample of 3,404 UK residents with a full UK driving licence. Fieldwork was undertaken between 20–27 October 2021.