In this guide we outline some of the potential issues with electric vehicle batteries – specifically how they are sourced and made, and the impact they have once they are used and need to be disposed of.
We also list some potential solutions for managing them as waste in the future.
Summary – Potential Problems With Electric Vehicle Batteries In The Future, & How To Manage Them
– Recycling batteries is not profitable or economically feasible
– Re-using recycled batteries in new EVs can be a liability and quality concern
– There’s ethical concerns with how the metal in the batteries are sourced and mined from other countries
– Potential sustainability and scarcity issues with rare/precious metals like lithium and cobalt used in the batteries
– Environmental concerns with mining EV battery metals, and recycling or disposing of EV batteries
– Find alternate uses for used batteries instead of just recycling
– Look for substitute metals for the scarce metals currently being used (that might be at risk of depletion)
– Find more cost effective ways to recycle battery metals and materials (through innovation and changing existing processes)
– Introduce certification in battery supply chain (to ensure a level of eco or ethical standards)
– Find ways to ‘green’ the mining, manufacture and recycling or disposal of EV batteries
Problems & Issues With Electric Vehicle Batteries (Now & In The Future)
1. Recycling is usually not profitable or economically feasible for EV car batteries, and has other issues
The value of the raw materials reclaimed from a lithium ion electric vehicle battery is only about a third of the full cost to recycle the battery i.e. recycling EV batteries right now doesn’t make economic sense
EV car battery recycling facilities can recover most metals from the battery, but they can’t directly recover the vital lithium, which ends up in a mixed byproduct. … [they] can reclaim lithium from the byproduct, but each extra process adds cost.
This means that while electric vehicle batteries might be taken to recycling facilities, there’s no guarantee the lithium itself will be recovered if [someone] doesn’t pay to do so.
[one option might be to get car manufacturers to pay this cost]
EV companies may not want to use recycled EV batteries due to liability concerns – similar to how tire manufacturers can be concerned with using recycled rubber
2. There’s ethical concerns with how the metals in the batteries are sourced and mined from other countries
Cobalt, a key component of the lithium-ion batteries in electric cars, is linked to reports of child labour.
3. Potential sustainability and scarcity issues for the future for the precious or rare metals like lithium and cobalt used in the batteries
The elements used in battery production are finite and in limited supply.
This makes it impossible to electrify all of the world’s transport with current battery technology.
Meanwhile, there is still no environmentally safe way of recycling lithium-ion batteries.
4. There’s environmental concerns with mining EV battery metals, and recycling or disposing of EV batteries
The nickel used in EV batteries is toxic to extract from the ground.
… there are environmental concerns and land use conflicts connected with lithium mining in countries like Tibet and Bolivia.
… there is [also] still no environmentally safe way of recycling lithium-ion batteries.
Lithium ion batteries carry a risk of giving off toxic gases if damaged, but core ingredients such as lithium and cobalt are finite and extraction can lead to water pollution and depletion among other environmental consequences.
How To Manage Electric Vehicle Batteries In The Future – Solutions, & Ideas
1. Instead of recycling the batteries, re-use them for other uses (this addresses the recycling, sourcing, sustainability, and environmental issues to an extent)
Instead of being recycled, EV batteries might be re-used instead
Many EV batteries which are ‘spent’ still have up to 70% capacity left – more than enough for other uses.
After used EV batteries have been broken down, tested, and re-packaged, they can be used for things like home energy storage.
Lithium-ion car and bus batteries can collect and discharge electricity for a further seven to 10 years after being taken off the roads
In Japan, re-used batteries are being used for chilling drinks, powering car charging stations and storing energy for homes and grids in Europe
[Used EV car batteries are constantly being tested for new uses]
The market for second life EV batteries could be huge
Read more about new potential uses at https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2018-06-27/where-3-million-electric-vehicle-batteries-will-go-when-they-retire
2. Look for alternative and substitute metals and materials other than the scarce metals being used in EV batteries. Or, find more cost effective ways (through innovation) to recycle battery metals and material
Metals can sometimes have substitutes or alternative metals that can be used, but performance can suffer as a result of this – so it’s something that may or may not be a viable option.
Also, finding more cost effective ways to recycle or use/sell recycled battery material could make the profitability of recycling more viable.
Dedicated EV battery recycling factories (with high efficiency) could be one way to do this.
Ultimately, even if batteries are re-used after their life in an EV, they will need to be recycled at some point after that so we can recover metals from the battery and keep it out of landfill.
So, re-use is only a pitstop – whereas recycling or landfill is the end point (and recycling metals contributes to a circular economy, so it makes sense to invest more money into developing it)
… battery technology is continuing to improve.
Lithium-titanate and lithium-iron-phosphate, for example, are gaining importance in the EV market and don’t need cobalt.
Other battery chemistries that rely on magnesium, sodium, or lithium-sulfur are also gaining traction as they have the potential to beat lithium-ion batteries on energy density and cost.
[a wet chemical process of recovering metals from batteries might be one commercially viable way in the future of recycling EV car batteries]
[it would also help recycling if all electric car batteries had to be designed and made in a way to make recycling easier and cost effective – so, design can help in recycling efforts. Think about the end result you want, and design for that]
3. Introduce certification in the battery supply chain (to reduce ethical conflicts)
Certification schemes, such as the one proposed in Sweden, could help deliver low-impact battery value chains and avoid conflict minerals and human rights violations in the industry.
4. Find ways to ‘green’ the mining, manufacture and recycling or disposal of EV batteries
For example, dedicated EV battery recycling factories could meet an environmental standard, and mining operations could too.