Atsunami of electric vehicles is expected in rich countries, as car companies and governments pledge to ramp up their numbers – there are predicted be 145m on the roads by 2030. But while electric vehicles can play an important role in reducing emissions, they also contain a potential environmental timebomb: their batteries.
By one estimate, more than 12m tons of lithium-ion batteries are expected to retire between now and 2030.
Not only do these batteries require large amounts of raw materials, including lithium, nickel and cobalt – mining for which has climate, environmental and human rights impacts – they also threaten to leave a mountain of electronic waste as they reach the end of their lives.
As the automotive industry starts to transform, experts say now is the time to plan for what happens to batteries at the end of their lives, to reduce reliance on mining and keep materials in circulation.
A second life
Hundreds of millions of dollars are flowing into recycling startups and research centers to figure out how to disassemble dead batteries and extract valuable metals at scale.
But if we want to do more with the materials that we have, recycling shouldn’t be the first solution, said James Pennington, who leads the World Economic Forum’s circular economy program. “The best thing to do at first is to keep things in use for longer,” he said.
“There is a lot of [battery] capacity left at the end of first use in electric vehicles,” said Jessika Richter, who researches environmental policy at Lund University. These batteries may no longer be able run vehicles but they could have second lives storing excess power generated by solar or windfarms.
Several companies are running trials.
End of life batteries could be a problem. Maybe. We’ve got a lorra money being put into working out whether they will be. Cool, so the problems already solved then. Greed the lust for profit, is solving this potential environmental problem.