The lack of computer chips across the world has greatly affected car manufacturers very hard particularly, denoting the significance of supply chain resilience.
However, in the case of hybrid electric vehicles, it is not obvious how their production could get affected by high costs and variable supplies.
To understand these vulnerabilities than those for the gas-powered models, scientists have performed a complete analysis, determining that hybrid models exhibit twice the vulnerability to supply chain disruptions.
The study was reported in ACS’ Environmental Science & Technology journal.
The shortcomings of the supply chain came to light during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly for industries that were dependent on electronics. This occurred as there was a hindrance in the flow of raw materials or occasional discontinuity. Additionally, a shift in consumer values and hard environmental regulations have led to more people purchasing hybrid vehicles.
These cars make use of batteries that would need rare metals and can feature volatile and variable prices based on their supplies. However, other materials and sparse elements can be utilized in smaller amounts in hybrid models versus traditional gas vehicles.
This makes way to the question of how these vehicles compare in light of supply chain vulnerabilities. Studies performed earlier had reported lists of elements utilized in the parts of conventional cars, but there is a lack of similar data on the parts used in hybrid vehicles.
Hence, Randolph Kirchain and his collaborators wished to make an extensive comparison of the compounds and elements that can fit into all the parts in gas-powered, plug-in hybrid, and self-charging hybrid cars, thereby evaluating the materials cost vulnerability of each of the three vehicles’.
The team gathered data on the compounds in over 350,000 parts utilized to construct seven vehicles from the same manufacturer with various levels of electrification — three sport utility vehicles (SUVs) and four sedans.
Furthermore, in each car type, they evaluated the amount of the 76 chemical elements present and a few other materials. For a monetary metric for vulnerability to be developed, the researchers examined the weight of each component, together with its average price and price volatility between 1998 and 2015.
The study findings demonstrated that plug-in hybrid and self-charging hybrid vehicles exhibit twice the risks of raw material cost, which equals an increase of $1 billion for a fleet of a million SUVs and sedans, than the traditional models.
The battery-related elements like neodymium, graphite, cobalt and nickel were the biggest contributors to the increase in price risks. Yet, alterations to the exhaust and transmission systems in hybrid vehicles helped decrease the impact of aluminum and palladium, respectively.
The scientists indicate that as manufacturers increase the production of electric vehicles to fulfill the demand, they can decrease raw material cost risks with long-standing supplier contracts, replace few materials or recycle others.
The authors of the study acknowledge financial support from Ford Motor Company.
Bhuwalka, K., et al. (2021) Characterizing the Changes in Material Use due to Vehicle Electrification. Environmental Science & Technology. doi.org/10.1021/acs.est.1c00970.