By on December 15, 2020

Are EV Batteries an Environmental Hot Mess?

Are EV batteries an environmental hazard? The European Commission (EC) is proposing stricter regulations on EV battery sustainability. A 2006 Battery Directive dealt with safe recycling and disposal of Pb-acid and Ni-Cd batteries when Li-ion batteries used in electric vehicles (EVs) and hybrids were still in their infancy. These new rules will supposedly improve Li-ion batteries by reducing their carbon footprint, hazardous material use, and increasing responsibly-sourced material usage.

Before applauding the EC on their environmental advocacy, realize this is commerce-driven. After a three-year period of increased investment into developing a Li-ion battery industry in Europe, the governments and automotive OEMs became aware that in starting from scratch, European battery manufacturers were competing against well established Asian battery giants with decades of R&D and manufacturing experience.

Providing batteries with a lower carbon footprint and more sustainable, transparent material use may be a strategy that differentiates the Europeans from companies such as LG Chem, Panasonic, or Samsung. Whether this provides them with an advantage, having designed-in renewable power use and sustainability strategies, remains to be seen.

Are EV Batteries an Environmental Hot Mess?

To minimize the impact of Li-ion batteries, stricter recycling requirements on Li-ion battery collection rates have been proposed. Manufacturers would be required to include recycled materials, including four percent lithium, 12 percent cobalt, and 20 percent nickel. Added to a 100-percent EV battery collection rate, removable batteries in consumer devices such as smartphones may be required. While EV battery volume will eventually dwarf that from consumer devices, this is not the case yet. Batteries in consumer devices rich in cobalt could be a valuable resource if they can be collected.

The EC also called attention to the need for better performing batteries. Greater specific energy and longer-lasting batteries would reduce the consequences of battery production and use. Improving battery performance while reducing energy consumption, or the use of hazardous materials such as cobalt, is not easy. Decreasing cobalt content may result in lower cycle life, but what are the environmental trade-offs? The discussion around the impact of Li-ion batteries continues as battery materials and design innovations are taking place.

How will we recycle tons of EV batteries past their prime? The world’s Li-ion production capacity has increased tenfold over the past decade to meet the demand for EVs. Now that the first EVs produced are beginning to reach their end-of-life, spent batteries are just beginning. This will only get worse as more EVs hit the road. The International Energy Agency predicts an 800 percent increase in EVs over the next decade, each car with thousands of cells. This is what Wired called an ‘e-waste time bomb’ and lithium-ion recycling is the only way to disarm it.

Maximizing environmental benefits while minimizing any repercussions from Li-ion batteries should be the goal, not profitability. The opportunity exists to do this now while we are at the early stages of an industry forecast for substantial growth, and hopefully, there is a collective will to make this happen.

[Images: Rivian]

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13 Comments on “Are EV Batteries an Environmental Hot Mess?...”


  • avatar
    indi500fan

    Musk’s former consigliere JB Straubel has a company near the Nevada Panasonic plant called Redwood Materials that is working on battery recycling.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      Beat me to it.

      Originally, the Gigafactory was supposed to also recycle, but maybe Tesla has decided to outsource this to Redwood Materials? I like the third-party business model of handling Li-ion batteries from any source, rather than having every mfr do their own recycling.

      • 0 avatar
        SPPPP

        Yes, they will probably want to keep that liability far, far away from the sacred T.

      • 0 avatar
        mcs

        I’m wondering what an EV battery recycling would actually look like. With new electrode coating technology giving us million-mile plus, the battery could possibly spend its life powering 4 different vehicles. Maybe there will be a new product segment of new cars powered by recycled batteries?

        https://www.autoweek.com/news/a34620676/million-mile-batteries-theyre-coming/

        • 0 avatar
          Luke42

          “I’m wondering what an EV battery recycling would actually look like. With new electrode coating technology giving us million-mile plus, the battery could possibly spend its life powering 4 different vehicles.”

          That’s likely one of the reasons the Cybertruck is made of stainless steel.

          So the rest of the truck will last as long as the battery.

          It’s ugly like a Jeep.

  • avatar
    Imagefont

    No actual information on the economics of recycling a Lithium ion battery. And actually, a large percentage of the battery is not economically recyclable.

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    “hopefully, there is a collective”

    Am I being trolled by a commie? :-)

  • avatar

    Currently Best Buy collects Li-ion and other types of rechargeable batteries. When I want to get rid of battery I drop it there in a box in the entrance. I wonder what happens after that. I hope they do not throw it away. Most likely they it send to China. Chinese can handle everything and solve any problem. Chana is the new USA (and USA is turning into old China).

  • avatar
    Avid Fan

    Maximizing environmental benefits while minimizing any repercussions from Li-ion batteries should be the goal, not profitability.

    Ha, good one.

  • avatar
    probert

    The question is always “relative to what?”

  • avatar
    Old_WRX

    “Maximizing environmental benefits while minimizing any repercussions from Li-ion batteries should be the goal, not profitability.”

    Sounds great, won’t happen.

  • avatar
    dantes_inferno

    “Are EV Batteries an Environmental Hot Mess?…”

    Rare Earth says YES.

  • avatar
    dantes_inferno

    Environmentalists: Fossil fuels negatively affect the planet.

    Batteries: Hold my cable…

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