Assessing the Water Footprint of Electric Car Batteries – A Dive into the Water-Energy Nexus


Water has been historically overlooked as a criterion when measuring the environmental impact of a project. This project aims to visualize the water impacts and risks associated with extracting three critical minerals commonly used in electric vehicle (EV) batteries (lithium, cobalt, and nickel) on behalf of Rivian – an EV manufacturing company. As EVs become increasingly popular, the demand for minerals and metals used in their production, such as lithium, cobalt, and nickel, has increased. The mining of these minerals often takes place in water-stressed areas, which can have negative environmental and social impacts. The goal of this project is to assess the water risks associated with mining these minerals and provide recommendations for a more sustainable supply chain.

The objectives of this project are to identify potential "hot spots" in the EV supply chain where water risks are most prevalent, evaluate the consumption of water from mining the three minerals, and provide recommendations to create a more sustainable supply chain.

We narrowed the supply chain to include an analysis of the mining of three critical EV battery raw materials – lithium, cobalt, and nickel. We researched the specific supply chains of these three minerals and found the geographic location of the top 10 mines by production, with some exceptions. These mines were then overlayed with water scarcity data from WRI’s Aqueduct tool. A dashboard was created to express these findings. In the interest of transparency, we made sure to gather as much water consumption data as possible for the mining processes of lithium, cobalt, and nickel. Though we encountered some limitations during this process, such as differing functional units and definitions of water consumption/use, we did our best to create an informative table displaying our findings. We acknowledge that some of our sources lacked scientific confidence and our sample may not have been fully representative.

Potential supply chain hot spots - mines located in areas of high stress extremely high stress, or arid and low water use - were located for each mineral. For cobalt, the potential hot spots included the Murrin Murrin mine in Australia. For lithium, the potential hot spots include Sociedad Quimica y Minera de Chile and Albemarle’s Chile operations. It is also important to note the Greenbush Mine in Australia was located less than 10 miles from a location of high water scarcity and thus, was included in our potential hot spots. For nickel, the potential hot spots include Mount Keith Mine in Australia.

The broader ramifications of this work include the potential to promote more sustainable practices within the EV industry. By identifying potential "hot spots" in the supply chain where water stress risks are most present, this project provides a framework for developing a more sustainable supply chain. The recommendations provided in this project can help stakeholders in the EV industry to make more wholistic decisions about the environmental and social impacts of their production practices by including water consumption impacts.

This project highlights the need for greater attention to be paid to water scarcity within the EV supply chain. By analyzing the water risks associated with mining critical minerals for EVs and providing recommendations for a more sustainable supply chain, this project seeks to promote more responsible production practices within the EV industry. The findings of this project have the potential to inform future research and policy initiatives aimed at addressing the environmental and social impacts of EV production.

Moving forward, there is a need for more comprehensive data on water consumption and direct engagement with upstream suppliers to better understand the potential risks at these locations. Companies in the EV industry should also assess the sustainability of their supply chains on an individual level and explore alternative sources for critical minerals to reduce reliance on high-risk locations.





MacDonald, Kathlyn, Karen Thornton, Mary Margaret Allen and Taro Katayama (2023). Assessing the Water Footprint of Electric Car Batteries – A Dive into the Water-Energy Nexus. Master's project, Duke University. Retrieved from

Dukes student scholarship is made available to the public using a Creative Commons Attribution / Non-commercial / No derivative (CC-BY-NC-ND) license.