This is the new Tesla battery Gigafactory near Berlin. Worldwide, more than 350 gigafactories are planned by 2031.

Electric cars can play an important role in the transformation of the transport sector towards a fossil free future.

But producing batteries for these vehicles comes with serious social and environmental costs.

A truly just transformation of transport requires reducing our material footprint. This means focusing on more and better public transport, and fundamentally changing our relationship to cars.

Electric vehicles (EVs) are widely seen as indispensable to combat the climate emergency. But the rising demand for batteries to power these vehicles threatens to lead us into a transport transition that is devastating for the environment and for the human rights of millions of people due to the massive surge in mining of the minerals needed for batteries.

In this first instalment of a series on the global battery value chain, SOMO exposes, in 14 visuals, the phenomenal growth in battery production predicted by 2031. This ‘battery boom’ raises serious questions about the scale of mineral consumption, where these raw materials are coming from and - critically - who is consuming them.

We need a far-reaching energy transition to tackle the climate crisis. In order to limit global warming to 1.5% and avoid dire consequences for people and the planet, global emissions need to peak by 2025 and be reduced by more than 40% by 2030, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).1 Transport plays a key role in the energy transition, as it accounts for almost a quarter of global energy-related CO2 emissions, of which a large majority is attributable to road transport.2 Transport-related emissions are significantly unequal worldwide, with the United States (US), Europe and China being the largest emitters.3

To reduce these transport emissions, the US, the European Union (EU) and China rely heavily on technological solutions, particularly electric vehicles (EVs). In doing so, the world’s largest polluters fail to address the root cause of the climate crisis: their unsustainable consumption.

Furthermore, they are externalising many negative impacts of the transport transition to countries that are producing the minerals that drive the new ‘clean’ transport options. The extraction of ‘transition minerals’ such as cobalt, lithium, manganese, copper, graphite and nickel is happening in resource-rich countries such as Chile, Argentina, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Africa and Indonesia.

We often hear that the energy transition will require vast amounts of minerals. However, it is important to note that production of EVs accounts for 50% to 60% of such projected mineral demand.4

“EVs and battery storage account for about half of the mineral demand growth from clean energy technologies over the next two decades” International Energy Agency 5

Mining for such minerals is frequently related to severe and enduring impacts to ecosystems, water resources, important biodiversity areas and to the rights of workers, Indigenous Peoples and local communities.

The Transition Minerals Tracker, an initiative of the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre (BHRRC), has documented hundreds of allegations of human rights and environmental abuses related to mining of transition minerals.6 Almost two thirds of these abuses are directed towards local communities and civil society organisations, while one third of the cases involve environmental damage (mostly affecting water rights).

To make things worse, minerals such as cobalt and lithium have been declared as 'critical' by both the US and the EU as they are deemed strategic for their economic development. At the geopolitical level, the US and EU are competing with each other and China to secure access to critical minerals, through increased financing and more pressure on countries that have reserves of these minerals, to accelerate extraction permits and boost exploration. This, in turn, is increasing the risks for mining-affected communities. It is also replicating a deeply damaging neocolonial extractivist economic model where wealthy nations secure their ‘clean’ transport on the back of the exploitation of other countries and other people.

The growth of battery manufacturing in Europe and the US

Li-ion batteries are the key technology enabling the rapid uptake of EVs and a main source of their environmental and social footprint. Large-scale factories producing these batteries, often referred as gigafactories, are popping up rapidly; particularly in China, Europe and the US and production capacity is skyrocketing.

The rapid growth of Li-ion batteries production is largely driven by the increasing demand for EVs in China, Europe and the United States. Analysts estimate that EVs will account for around 90% of Li-ion battery demand during the next 20 years.7

The adoption of EVs in these regions is heavily incentivised by subsidies, tax breaks and emission reduction targets. In 2021, global public spending to support EVs reached USD 30 billion, almost double the amount of the previous year.8 Europe led the way with USD 12.5 billion, followed closely by China with USD 12 billion. US public spending was much lower at USD 2 billion; however, it is increasing significantly following laws passed by the Biden administration to boost clean energy.

China began granting subsidies for the purchases of new energy vehicles in 2009. Since then, Chinese authorities have spent around USD 150 billion in subsidies and incentives.9

The EU has banned the sale of new petrol and diesel cars from 2035 onwards.10 The European Climate Law has set a legally binding target of net zero emissions by 2050, and the complementary Fit For 55 package aims at reducing emissions by at least 55% by 2030. Both instruments are part of Europe’s Green Deal which is an economic growth strategy based on the contested premises that: i) unlimited growth of production and consumption in industrialised societies (measured as GDP) is possible in a world of finite resources, and: ii) that decoupling of economic activities from emissions is plausible despite the lack of any evidence that such sort of decoupling is possible at a global scale.11

The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), signed into law by President Biden in August 2022, grants almost USD 400 billion in funding for clean energy projects in the form of tax incentives, grants and loan guarantees. More than USD 23 billion are allocated to transportation and electric vehicles. Corporations are the biggest beneficiaries of the IRA with estimated USD 216 billion worth of tax credits.12 The IRA is complemented by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law which also includes funding for supporting EV infrastructure.

As a result of their state aid and policy interventions, China, Europe and the US dominate global Li-ion battery production capacity.

While China will continue to be the main producer of Li-ion batteries in the coming years, the US and Europe show the highest growth rate of production capacity.

Li-ion battery manufacturing in China is more mature and consolidated than in Europe and the US, where it is still a nascent industry. This partly explains why battery manufacturers are currently flocking to invest in the latter regions (in addition to generous tax breaks, subsidies and other incentives). Producing batteries next to the European and US car manufacturing hubs also reduces the need to transport heavy products across the ocean, reduces geopolitical risk and benefits from market proximity.

The number of Li-ion battery gigafactories in Europe is expected to grow from the current seven to more than thirty by 2031. Germany leads the pack with over 35% of total European capacity and 8 new factories planned for 2031. It is followed by Hungary, which has 6 factories planned and will represent around 15% of total European capacity.

By 2031, Europe will have eight gigafactories developed by joint ventures between car companies and battery makers, if all plans materialise. These joint ventures, involving car producers Stellantis, Mercedes-Benz, Renault, Volvo and Nissan, will represent more than 20% of the total battery production capacity in Europe. Cooperation between car producers and battery makers fits in a trend towards vertical integration in the battery value chain, with car companies moving into the battery business in order to secure supply and control production costs.

The US will also experience massive growth in battery production, with more than 25 gigafactories planned by 2031. More than half of the capacity will involve joint ventures, with 12 factories involving car companies GM, Honda, Stellantis, Tesla, Mercedes-Benz and Ford.

The corporate giants controlling the transition

Revenues along the Li-ion battery value chain reached USD 85 billion in 2022 and could grow to more than USD 400 billion by 2030.13 Close to a third of such forecast revenues (USD 121 billion) could be captured by battery cell manufacturers, placing such companies as key beneficiaries of the transport transition, followed closely by the producers of battery active materials.

Battery manufacturing is dominated by a few large companies as economies of scale are key to reduce production costs. In 2022, three companies (CATL, LG Energy Solution and BYD) accounted for almost 45% of production.14 Only the largest companies with deep pockets and large technology pools are able to survive. Battery companies operate under a logic of “go big or go home”. According to Benchmark Minerals, by 2031 the biggest nine companies will control 52% of production capacity.15 Capital is concentrated in a few players, which have substantial market power, leading to the risk of oligopolies.

What are battery cells and active materials?


A battery cell consists of a single anode and cathode, separated by an electrolyte used to produce a voltage and current.

Active materials are the chemically active components of the two electrodes of a battery cell that participate in the electrochemical charge/discharge reaction.

In addition, there is a trend toward vertical integration that contributes to the concentration of power within a few corporate players. Car and battery companies are integrating mining and refining, cathode production or recycling operations within their own businesses rather than outsourcing such activities.

Companies along the Li-ion battery value chain are also tightening alliances through joint ventures, strategic partnerships and equity investments.

This type of vertical integration strategy was first implemented in China. For instance, CATL, the world’s largest battery producer, has joint ventures with all major Chinese car companies including BAIC, Dongfeng, SAIC, Geely and FAW.

BYD, the second largest Chinese battery producer, is perhaps the best example of vertical integration. Having started as a supplier of Li-ion batteries to consumer electronic firms such as Apple and Foxconn, it now has stakes in the entire EV battery value chain from mining to recycling and energy storage.

The automotive industry is facing a major transformation which includes changes of production models, business models, corporate structures and innovation strategies. Car companies are no longer the sole drivers of production and innovation but now have to share their power with other players, such as manufacturers of Li-ion batteries and powertrains (which power the EV instead of the traditional combustion engine). Digital mobility services through ICT platforms is also expected to bring in other disruptive forces such as a bigger role for technology firms.

The countries that win and the ones that lose in the energy transition

In 2021, 94% of all EVs were sold in China, Europe and the US.16 By 2030, these regions will still represent more than three quarters of the EV market. The only other significant region in terms of EV uptake will be India with 10% percent of the market by 2031. The transport transition led by the West and China is deepening inequalities among regions.

Industry analyst BloombergNEF warns:

“A two-tiered global auto market is emerging, with the economic and air quality benefits of electrification set to accrue very unevenly between wealthy and emerging economies. Urgent action is needed to help close this gap”. 17

While EV sales are concentrated in China, Europe and the US, and the economic benefits accrued by large corporations, other regions bear the brunt of the negative impacts.

For instance, in Indonesia, nickel mining has destroyed forests and heavily polluted coastal areas.18 Rivers and bays have turned reddish brown due to mine tailings. These tailings are often toxic and affect the livelihoods and sustenance of local residents by contaminating rice fields and decimating fish stocks. Refining of nickel is energy-intensive, mostly powered by coal, and generates high amounts of carbon emissions and waste.

In the Puna de Atacama, spanning arid zones of Chile, Argentina and Bolivia, lithium mining threatens fragile ecosystems and water resources.19 Some local communities have not been properly consulted according to international standards, nor have they received fair benefits from the use of their environment.20

Child labour and exposure to chemicals and unsafe working conditions have been documented in the DRC’s copper and cobalt extraction sites. Mining operations have damaged the environment, destroyed livelihoods, and exposed communities to security risks and violent conflict.21 In some cases workers face exploitation including extremely low pay, excessive working hours, discrimination and degrading treatment.

According to industry estimates, the total annual mineral demand for EVs is forecast to grow by more than 360% from 2021 to 2030.22 Due to the speed and magnitude of increased mineral demand for the production of EVs, the social and environmental impacts are putting ever more pressure on communities, Indigenous Peoples and ecosystems in resource rich countries.

The cumulative mineral demand is even more daunting from an environmental and social perspective. At above 100 million tonnes, cumulative demand for the key minerals to produce batteries from 2021 to 2030 is equivalent to the weight of almost 18 Great Pyramids of Giza.23, 24

Almost 90% of such cumulative demand comes from only five minerals: Lithium, Graphite, Aluminium, Nickel and Copper.

What are key battery minerals?


The key minerals for producing electric car batteries are: Lithium, Cobalt, Nickel, Graphite, Manganese, Iron, Phosphorus, Aluminium, and Copper.

And that is not all. These numbers refer only to final output units of the minerals. To obtain them, a much larger amount of ore and waste rock needs to be mined and processed. In a recent study, the US Geological Survey and Apple concluded that on average 250 tonnes of ore and waste rock need to be processed to obtain one single tonne of nickel.25 In the case of copper, 513 tonnes of ore and waste rock are required to obtain a tonne of final product, while for lithium (from hard rock such as in Australia) it takes 1,634 tonnes of ore and waste rock to produce a single tonne of final product.

For perspective, the equivalent of 2,262 Great Pyramids of Giza of ore and rock waste have to be moved and processed to satisfy the cumulative copper demand of Li-ion batteries (2021 to 2030). Plus, the equivalent of 371 Great Pyramids of ore and waste rock for nickel; 210 Great Pyramids for cobalt and 2,366 Great Pyramids for lithium.26

The sheer amount of rock and ore that needs to be mined and processed is only one metric to calculate environmental impacts, many others need to be considered. For instance, water use, waste generation, biodiversity loss, deforestation, water depletion, exposure to toxics and heavy metals and carbon emissions.

As mentioned above, such negative impacts are largely happening at extraction sites.

Acknowledging the fact that the battery boom poses serious social and environmental risks, the EU has passed a Regulation concerning batteries (the Batteries Regulation) which imposes mandatory requirements for all batteries placed on the EU market.27 It includes rules on carbon intensity, minimum recycled content in new batteries, durability, labelling, collection schemes and recycling targets. The Batteries Regulation also requires battery manufacturers and importers to conduct due diligence to identify and address social and environmental risks in the supply chain, particularly on the sourcing of lithium, graphite, nickel and cobalt. Unfortunately, it does not extend these due diligence rules to other important minerals used for the production of batteries, such as bauxite, copper and iron. Nor does it provide effective means of redress for people or communities whose rights are abused in the process of extraction or for legal accountability of companies that act irresponsibly.

While the end-of-use and recycled contented rules are an important, positive step to reduce future European demand for virgin raw materials, the Batteries Regulation does not sufficiently address Europe’s unsustainable consumption of minerals. Under current EV growth projections it would take decades for recycled minerals to play a significant role in reducing primary demand of virgin minerals.28 Europe is replicating the economic model and assumptions that have underpinned the fossil fuel energy era, and as a result Europe’s energy transition risks major negative consequences for biodiversity, the environment and global inequality. So, while governments need to encourage recycling and the circular economy, it is imperative that they also significantly reduce resource consumption as part of the transport and broader energy transition.

A just transition?

The transport transition based on electrification of individually owned vehicles is unjust for a number of reasons and fails to address the much-needed shift away from fossils fuels in a fair and equitable way.

While EVs have no tail-pipe carbon emissions, their production is generating serious negative impacts, particularly in the countries where the minerals to produce batteries are extracted. As previously discussed, this includes significant environmental damage, exploitation of workers along the supply chain, and human rights abuses, particularly affecting communities and Indigenous Peoples in the mining areas. While some of these harms can be mitigated, the pressure from Europe, the US and China to increase access to critical minerals is exacerbating rather than mitigating harm.

The way in which the West and China are approaching the energy and transport transition is also deepening global inequalities. The quest for minerals and metals by the wealthy countries is reinforcing a pre-existing neo-colonial economic framework where some resource-rich countries are pushed to remain as suppliers of raw materials that feed the consumer demands and unsustainable lifestyles of global powers. Many of the countries that are the source of critical minerals for EVs do not have access to the technology that their minerals are used in. Many more countries lack the infrastructure and revenues to make the transition.

This deepening inequality is reinforced by governments’ approach to business actors involved in EV and battery manufacturing. As part of their intense drive to access critical minerals and remain economically dominant in the energy transition, China and the West are supporting their multinational companies with taxpayers’ money in the form of subsidies and tax breaks. Such policies reinforce the dominance of Western and Chinese corporate giants and the trend towards concentration of power in a relatively small number of companies. Companies are able to convert public money into private profit and into creating more shareholder value. The same companies frequently externalise the negative impacts of extraction and manufacturing onto local communities, workers and environments.

To make things worse, under the current transition, despite the introduction of EVs, the global fleet of vehicles (including petrol and diesel cars) is forecast to continue to grow. With more cars on the road, it is unlikely that the transport sector can reduce global emissions as needed for limiting global warming to 1.5° or 2° scenarios. Even if some countries manage to cut emissions through EVs, transport emissions will continue to grow at a global scale.

A just energy transition is imperative, but under current policies of the West and China, it is out of reach. This has to change, and change fast.

The way forward

A failure to address unsustainable consumption of energy and raw materials is at the core of the climate emergency. The same unsustainable consumption is now becoming the hallmark of the transition to clean energy and clean transport.

A just transition is not only possible, but in the end, it is the only truly sustainable and realistic way forward.

Central to a just transport transition is having more clean and effective public transport options and fewer and smaller cars on the road. The International Transport Forum (ITF), an intergovernmental organisation with 64 member countries, has warned about the overreliance on EVs to decarbonise transport and stresses the need to reduce car dependency.29

“Self-driving cars and electric vehicles are no panacea for curbing emissions. Automated and electrified cars are only a part of the solution, not the solution, because of implementation challenges and the externalities they create” - ITF Transport Outlook 2021

We need to reduce the reliance on individual cars and travel in more sustainable ways. Having fewer cars on the road would require a paradigm shift away from individual car ownership towards active, shared and public modes of transport. This is precisely what the UN IPCC is calling for in their Mitigation of Climate Change Report which recommends a “shift to more energy efficient transport modes”30 and the “prioritisation of high-accessibility transport solutions”.31

According to ITF, by 2050 urban transport emissions (accounting for 40% of all passenger transport emissions) could be reduced by 80% following a combination of policies that reduce individual car use and improve public transport. These policies include giving less urban space to cars and reallocating such space to public and active transport (such as cycling and walking); making sure car users pay the real cost of parking and driving; and shared mobility services such as carsharing and carpooling. All of these measures have to be accompanied by significant investments in low-carbon alternatives to cars.

Moving towards this vision and away from individual car ownership has to become the core of public policy and governments must shift their approach to enable, educate and incentivise this paradigm shift.

In addition to producing fewer EVs, those that are produced also need to be smaller. Smaller vehicles require smaller batteries and thus less minerals. For example, recent research by the Climate and Community Project found that limiting EVs battery size in the US could result in a 42% reduction in lithium demand. And if smaller batteries were paired with policies to reduce car dependency, lithium demand could be reduced up to 66%.32

However, the current picture suggests we are moving in the opposite direction. The majority of EVs models on the market are now SUVs. In 2021 they accounted for almost 45% of global car sales.33 SUVs have a large material footprint, and their manufacture and sale need to drastically be reduced.

Circular economy strategies to decrease demand of minerals should also play a central role in the path forward. Such strategies include emphasis on reuse, recycling, extended lifetimes and design for circularity. For instance, research by the Institute for Sustainable Futures, prepared for Earthworks, found that recycling end-of-life EV Li-ion batteries could reduce primary demand compared to total demand in 2040, by 25% for lithium, 35% for cobalt and nickel and 55% for copper.34

The EU has shown some leadership on circular economy strategies, but these do not go far enough or fast enough. The Batteries Regulation requires action to recover minerals from waste batteries and for batteries to have minimum levels of recycled content, and several EU frameworks address reducing raw material consumption. However, the targets need far greater ambition. Environmental groups have called for the EU to put in place rules that “slash consumption”. Moreover, the EU lacks policy coherence on this issue, supporting circular economy ideas on the one hand, and driving demand for critical minerals and EV manufacturing on the other.

Reducing the number and size of EVs and making significant additional progress on recycling and reuse of materials will not abolish the need for some extraction of minerals completely. Globally there will still be some demand. In order to ensure this does not repeat the decades of abuse associated with the extractive sector, robust and effective corporate human rights and environmental due diligence laws are needed. The rights of workers and communities in resource-rich countries cannot be sacrificed under the banner of the transition and should be protected and respected, including when communities withhold their consent to mining operations. Laws with teeth, capable of holding companies to account and ensuring remedy for victims are critical to a just transition.

The way forward also requires substantial cooperation between countries to ensure that everyone can benefit from clean and sustainable transport options. This goes beyond the weak formulas of international development and requires a robust approach to reducing global wealth inequalities. The issue is wider than EVs, but if the EV market continues to develop as it has so far, with a small group of nations and their multinationals dominating resource consumption and driving ever higher consumer demands for vehicles, the global equality to which all countries committed as part of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will remain an illusion. Changing the economic model and the corporate incentives involved in the EV boom is an important dimension of changing the paradigm of individual and growing car ownership. It is the companies, after all, that drive demand.

To conclude, in order for the West and China to avoid building their transport transition on the back of exploitation and abuse abroad they need to focus on having far, far fewer and smaller cars. The transport transition can contribute to building a new economy that avoids repeating the damage to communities and the environment caused by the fossil-fuel era. The transition offers a key opportunity to move towards a regenerative economy rather than the current extractivist model based on extraction, exploitation and concentration of power and influence with large corporations.

About this story

This story has been created by SOMO with financial assistance from Brot für die Welt and the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The content of this publication is the sole responsibility of SOMO and does not necessarily reflect the views of the funders. Disclaimer.


  • Research: Alejandro González
  • Editing: Camiel Donicie, Audrey Gaughran
  • Conceptual advice & designs: Heleen Emanuel
  • Data visualisations: Afonso Gonsalves, Erik van Gameren, René Vlak
  • Data sources: Benchmark Minerals, International Energy Agency, BloombergNEF, and United States Geological Survey
  • Cover photo: Ralf Roletschek (via Wikimedia, CC 3.0)

Creative Commons


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