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Comparative life cycle assessment of lithium-ion batteries with lithium metal, silicon nanowire, and graphite anodes


Lithium metal and silicon nanowires, with higher specific capacity than graphite, are the most promising alternative advanced anode materials for use in next-generation batteries. By comparing three batteries designed, respectively, with a lithium metal anode, a silicon nanowire anode, and a graphite anode, the authors strive to analyse the life cycle of different negative electrodes with different specific capacities and compare their cradle-to-gate environmental impacts. This paper finds that a higher specific capacity of the negative material causes lower environmental impact of the same battery. The battery with a lithium metal anode has a lower environmental impact than the battery with a graphite anode. Surprisingly, although the silicon nanowire anode has a higher specific energy than graphite, the production of a battery with silicon nanowires causes a higher environmental impact than the production of a battery with graphite. In fact, the high specific energy of silicon nanowires can decrease the environmental impact of a battery with silicon nanowires, but silicon nanowire preparation causes extremely high emissions. Therefore, batteries with lithium metal anodes are the most environmentally friendly lithium-ion batteries. Batteries with lithium metal anodes could be the next generation of environmentally friendly batteries for electric vehicles.

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Battery management systems




Graphite anode

CO2 :

Carbon dioxide


Depth of discharge


Electric vehicles


Fossil depletion potential




Freshwater and marine eutrophication


Functional unit


Global warming potential


Human toxicity potential

kg eq:

Kilograms equivalents


Life cycle assessment




Battery with LiFePO4 cathode and lithium metal anode


Lithium metal


Lithium metal anode


Lithium-ion batteries

Li–O2 :

Lithium–air battery cells


Lithium–sulphur battery




Metal depletion potential


Marine eutrophication potential



N/P ratio:

Capacity ratio of the negative electrode to the positive electrode


Lithium nickel cobalt manganese oxide, LiNi1/3Mn1/3Co1/3O2


Lithium-ion battery pack with NCM cathode and graphite anode


Lithium-ion battery pack with NCM cathode and lithium metal anode


Lithium-ion battery pack with NCM cathode and silicon nanowire anode




Particulate matter less than 10 μm in diameter


Particulate matter formation


Silicon nanowires


Silicon nanowire anode

SO2 :

Sulphur dioxide


Terrestrial acidification potential


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We are very grateful to Professor Xiaoming Ma for helpful discussions, to the editor and reviewers for their valuable comments, and to Qinhong Luo for his valuable help with plotting the data. We would like to thank James Ding and Lianyi Quan for helping the researchers to check grammar errors.

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Correspondence to Zheshan Wu.

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Wu, Z., Kong, D. Comparative life cycle assessment of lithium-ion batteries with lithium metal, silicon nanowire, and graphite anodes. Clean Techn Environ Policy 20, 1233–1244 (2018).

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  • Lithium metal anode
  • Silicon nanowire anode
  • Environmental impact assessment
  • Specific energy
  • Lithium-ion battery