Problem solved then

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.

How cool.

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.

45 thoughts on “Problem solved then”

  1. Lust for profit means that Tesla battery packs are built to be recycled in the same Giga factories where they were made. As more batteries reach end of life more space will be devoted to the recycling part of the operation. The recovered lithium and cobalt etc. stays in the factory and goes straight into the the supply chain for new battery packs. The only third party recycling involvement that could turn a profit is collection and delivery of the old battery packs.

  2. Yarp. There’s also loads of money flowing into better/cheaper/environmentallyer batteries themselves, so this might be one of the very few cases where Li-ions aren’t the solution.

    On Lithium, lots of media crying about how the Taliban now control “$1Tn” of this “rare” metal, but my guess – based on being a regular reader of Tim’s for many years – is that this just means it wasn’t considered a high priority to look for and then commercially exploit lithium in other countries until recently.

    And, lo, it seems there might be significant deposits in Cornwall and Scotland. I’m not a geologist or nothing, but you’d probably expect mineral deposits to be reasonably spread over the Earth’s crust, no?

  3. I suppose another benefit of using second-hand Li batteries is that the ones with the propensity to catch fire will have done so before becoming second-hand.

  4. Indeed Philip. Ignore the batteries. i can’t see the slightest sign that anyone’s addressing the problem of how to pass all this new electricity demand through the grid. Especially if it’s intended to switch to electric powered heat pumps as well as road transport. Every bit of cable from the power stations to the supply coming into homes was laid according to the demand at the time it was laid plus a bit of overhead. Much of it’s at its limits now. Cable’s damned expensive stuff. You don’t waste it by using higher capacity when you don’t need to. You can’t timeshift all surplus demand into off peak. You very quickly end up with no off peak.
    You’re also reducing the life expectancy of the grid. Harder it’s worked, the more failures. That was another thing factored in when everything was installed.

  5. The Chinese company CATL just announced a sodium ion battery. They’re a $180 Bn company and the world’s largest supplier of EV batteries apparently, so they’re probably not playing at this.

    Sodium is a lot cheaper and more abundant than lithium. It’s also not as good from a weight-to-charge pov, so I dunno if this is the vehicle battery revolution people are waiting for.

    But what if it made wind and solar more viable? Doesn’t really matter how big and heavy the battery is in a fixed installation, as long as it’s cheap and reliable.

    Governments are determined to fuck up the electricity supply, but if we’re lucky greed and boffinry will rescue us from malicious incompetence and the eschatological animist cult of the Swedish mongoloid.

  6. Pha! The exhaust on my dinosaur-guzzling car is falling off, neccessitating a trip to the grijj, and also prompting a review of carcosts vs benefits. I’m very close to deciding that my £250 per month costs of having a car purely to get to work isn’t worth the benefit. I’ve just done the sums and a monthly visit to my Mum by bus is £20 vs £40 for the car journey. How on earth an Energizer Bunny-mobile at 20 times that amount would tilt the benefit towards a tsunami of take-up is madness.

  7. Steve, the Taliban are irrelevant except as for security ( either as a problem or as enforcers), it is the Chinese who now have their hands on the lithium. They now have a reserve in Afghanistan to call on when required and to them cost is no real object.

  8. Otto – cost is always an object, Shirley?

    That’s why the Chinee are also investing in potentially cheaper alternatives.

  9. “you’d probably expect mineral deposits to be reasonably spread over the Earth’s crust, no?” No. The Middle Eastern Bronze Age ended for a while when they ran out of tin, or so some historians have concluded.

    Note too “available evidence, though very limited, thus points to Cornwall as the sole early source of tin in Central and Northern Europe.” “Sole”: goodness me.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tin_sources_and_trade_in_ancient_times

  10. Still, it’s good to know the Guardian can foresee a tsunami of timebombs.

    But why aren’t they ticking, eh? Doesn’t the Guardian Book of Clichés insist that timebombs tick?

  11. jgh,

    “Pha! The exhaust on my dinosaur-guzzling car is falling off, neccessitating a trip to the grijj, and also prompting a review of carcosts vs benefits. I’m very close to deciding that my £250 per month costs of having a car purely to get to work isn’t worth the benefit. I’ve just done the sums and a monthly visit to my Mum by bus is £20 vs £40 for the car journey. How on earth an Energizer Bunny-mobile at 20 times that amount would tilt the benefit towards a tsunami of take-up is madness.”

    This is the point I reached with our second car. I had a brake problem, got the MOT man to look at it and at £750 of repairs was more than the car was worth and as I’d barely driven it in 4 months under Covid, I scrapped it.

    Once you drop travel to work, or school runs or shopping, that’s most of it for owning a car if you live in town. You can find ways around a lot of the rest. Bus, deliveries, using more expensive local shops, taxis, even hiring a car sometimes. None of my spending on this, even including the value of my time, adds up to financing and running a car.

  12. Bloke in North Dorset

    @bis,

    Its not just the cabling that needs upgrading, as we’ve discussed many times. Look at the amount of real estate a charger takes at a motorway station or supermarket car park. Its not a problem out here in the sticks but in urban areas that real estate is valuable and once you’re beyond a couple of charge points to tick the environmental box someone is going to start looking at the costs a little more closely.

    How are the going to deal with a suburban street that doesn’t have verges and people don’t have drives to park on?

  13. dearieme – that’s just crazy enough to be true. I still dunno tho – the economically and technologically accessible resources of the Bronze Age were literally scratching the surface of what we can do now tho?

    BiND – do we still “need” cities?

  14. jgh:
    I’ve just done the sums and a monthly visit to my Mum by bus is £20 vs £40 for the car journey.

    Joy of bus means visits may become less frequent. Any urgent visits become a problem.

    How on earth an Energizer Bunny-mobile at 20 times that amount would tilt the benefit towards a tsunami of take-up is madness.

    The project is clearly designed to reduce car ownership. The manufacturers are in for a shock (ta dum), though they’re getting some practise in with the chip shortage.
    .

    Bloke in North Dorset:
    How are the going to deal with a suburban street that doesn’t have verges and people don’t have drives to park on?

    Reduction in car ownership.

  15. ‘But while electric vehicles can play an important role in reducing emissions…’

    Sophistry.

    Transferring emissions from the exhaust-pipe to fossil fuel power stations, lots more of which will be required to meet increased demand as energy for locomotion must be supplied by electricity instead of motor fuels.

    The notion that wind and solar can do this is the fantasy of those who do not understand physics.

  16. “I can’t see the slightest sign that anyone’s addressing the problem of how to pass all this new electricity demand through the grid.”

    Don’t you get it? Thats the dog that doesn’t bark in the night. They have no intention of upgrading anything. The entire aim is to reduce consumption, and making everything electric and then rationing electricity supply (by supply and/or price) is how they will do it. You won’t be able to afford an electric car so worrying about whether the masses can recharge one is moot, and your heating usage will be controlled via ‘grid management tools’ ie smart meters.

  17. PJF – “With fewer cars populations will have to concentrate”

    Why?

    We’ve just been through a 12 month plus experiment proving the opposite, no?

  18. PJF,

    “Joy of bus means visits may become less frequent. Any urgent visits become a problem.”

    Personally, I have no issues with the buses. When I was commuting by train, and took a bus to the station, my bus was 100% reliable for 6 months. Punctual to within 5 minutes. When I travel to Oxford I use the bus and it’s fine. Trains are woeful on reliability compared to Stagecoach in my experience.

    And if you really need car speed or flexibility, take a cab or hire a car. Hiring a cab to drive you 100 miles for such a journey might sound completely bonkers, but if it’s only once every few years, you’re still going to be quids in compared to running one.

    All of this is YMMV. If you live in the sticks, you probably need a car. If your job is at a factory on the edge of town, you need a car. I didn’t become car free because of saving the planet, but because I don’t especially like driving, and with everything available it all adds up for me now.

  19. We’ve just been through a 12 month plus experiment proving the opposite, no?

    No. The Panicdemic reduced the need for some people to travel to work. It did not reduce car ownership.
    We know what the civil layout will look like with few cars because we’ve been there before.

  20. Bloke in North Dorset

    BiND – do we still “need” cities?

    Humans are odd, some seem to like living cheek by jowl in rabbit hutches.

    Bloke in North Dorset:
    How are the going to deal with a suburban street that doesn’t have verges and people don’t have drives to park on?

    Reduction in car ownership.

    Yep, that’s the plan. They hate cars because it means we can chose where and when we travel. They love trains and buses because it means they decide when and where we travel.

  21. The charge points will certainly NOT be at petrol stations, at least in urban areas. The gas is `practically a loss leader for the shop and the last thing they want is to have cars cluttering the forecourt for hours.
    About 300 gas stations a year are closing. Tesco, Sainsbury’s et al are opening a few. Same logic. If they can install some charge points that work in an hour or two they will, if it takes 8 hours they won’t.

  22. PJF – “We know what the civil layout will look like with few cars because we’ve been there before.”

    Eh, the population was far *more* distributed across towns, villages and the countryside before mass car ownership. (Yes, apples, oranges and causality, but still…)

    It’s easier and cheaper than ever to work remotely and have your purchases delivered to your door. Why do we think this will not be so in future?

    BiND – “Humans are odd, some seem to like living cheek by jowl in rabbit hutches.”

    Calhoun’s rats: do we need em?

    Or another way: did Scipio Africanus the Younger do anything wrong?

  23. the Chinese who now have their hands on the lithium. They now have a reserve in Afghanistan to call on

    Maybe but probably not for long. Given how the Chinese regard their Muslim citizens I can’t see the Taliban staying lovey-dovey with Beijing for long.

  24. Sorry I’m a bit late to this party, but as a semi-retired engineer I had to finish a report today. Anyway ….
    There are all sorts of reasons why EVs are not going to take over in the UK, never mind the world. The biggest is that batteries, as they now stand, cannot store enough energy compared to petrol or diesel of the same volume/weight. For the same energy, batteries (now) are 10x heavier. So your car is dragging round excess weight, which means more power, which means EVs are far less efficient – never mind more expensive.
    Then there is the charging problem. Only around 40% of houses in the UK have driveway or garage parking. So what do the rest do? What does the occupant of a tenth floor flat do?
    Then there is, in the UK, a very marginal supply of electricity about to become worse with power stations closing in the next few years. Windmills and solar panels cannot cut it, no matter how many we have. We need base load, which is provided by the likes of gas. So your EV, even if you have the ability of charging it, is being charged from fossil fuels but far less efficiently than petrol and diesel.
    Which brings us to transmitting the power to where it’s needed. Not only would we need more power stations producing more electricity for EVs and heat pumps, the whole grid would need to be beefed up. New and bigger cables, lots of transformers on lots of corners of lots of streets, and every house will need new consumer units and upgraded main fuses (60 to 100 amps?). So every street, everywhere will have to be dug up.
    Next is that EVs, because of much of the above, hardly save any CO2 at all. The way to look at this is on a dust-to-dust basis. You dig up all the rare earths etc, you process, you make the EV, it gets used (charged from fossil fuels), and eventually you scrap it while trying to recycle as much as possible. On this basis, EVs save hardly any CO2 at all.
    Where do all of the rare earths and copper come from for all this? I’ll leave Tim to answer that one. My forte is engineering and not mining, but it looks like a major problem.
    I could go on, but I think you get the picture. Unless there is a dramatic step forward in battery technology, and widespread deployment of factory-built small nuclear power plants, EVs are pointless. Besides, do you really think the UK’s contribution to lowering CO2 is of any consequence at less than one per cent? China, India and Russia don’t give a toss and emit over half of man-made CO2 (even if it’s a problem, which I doubt). China has what? 600 coal-fired power stations?
    But then, as others have said on this thread, perhaps the hidden agenda is to lock us down and make owning a car so expensive only the elite can afford them.

  25. @asiaseen
    The Chinese are likely to be the first, and only, empire to succeed in Afghanistan.
    They will start at one side of the country, and move across. It’s already ‘desert’, so making it ‘a peace’ shouldn’t be hard. Do the Chinese eat omelettes?
    They’ll need plenty of slave workers for the mines. Afghanistan is too valuable to be left to the Afghans, they think.

    The West will go wild with fake anguish, and continue to buy shiploads of Chinese manufactured tat.
    Look for the new vocabulary: Blood Lithium, Blood Batteries, Deathcamp Dysoprosium.

    Pakistan should be worried, they’ll be next, and India will then be surrounded by a country they are already fighting a low-intensity war with. How nice for all.

  26. Bloke in North Korea (Germany province)

    Chris,

    You are looking at this from the point of view of an engineer. Someone who wants to solve problems, ideally in a cost-effective way.

    You are not looking at it from the point of view of a social engineer.

    They want to create more problems. Ideally as expensively as possible.

  27. BiNK
    Sadly, yes, engineers of my era are pragmatic and practical. I don’t know about now, but when I graduated in 1971, you look at every problem from all angles and the clients appreciated cost effective – and something that works. After all, you don’t want bridges falling down or cars crashing. Now, young engineers I meet in my semi-retired capacity are more concerned about maths being racist! A bit of a problem when maths and statistics is sixty per cent of engineering. What’s more, they can’t do mental arithmetic, or even read or write. Spelling and grammar is atrocious.
    My university try very hard to get me to donate money, but there is no chance. I look at the crap being conveyed on so-called engineering courses and being a fully fledged SJW seems to be the objective. God help us!

  28. Bloke in North Korea (Germany province)

    Chris, agree. But I hate to say that you Muphry’s-lawed yourself, in consecutive sentences.

  29. “It’s easier and cheaper than ever to work remotely and have your purchases delivered to your door.”

    I hadn’t put you down as a middle class w*nk*r c**t, Steve, but you’re starting to sound like a Torygraph columnist. Who’s going to work remotely apart from a bunch of desk jockies? Most of the jobs get done need people where the job needs doing. The world is not comprised solely of administrators & bean counters.

  30. BiNK
    It’s been a long day!

    BiS
    Meeting in offices of workshops is essential. It helps with creativity, amongst other things, and how do youngsters or new recruits learn?

  31. Eh, the population was far *more* distributed across towns, villages and the countryside before mass car ownership.

    True but, countryside apart, those were concentrations. People lived close and stayed close, because they had to (anyone living truly apart was either rich or basically self-sufficient). And as you say, apples and oranges – villages were populated then by local workers. Now they’re populated as nice places for nice people with nice cars. Take the nice cars away and the nice people will move to access the other niceties not available in villages.

  32. “Unless there is a dramatic step forward in battery technology”

    ITYM: Unless there is a dramatic step forward in battery physics.

    Montgomery Scott’s mantra applies here.

  33. “Meeting in offices of workshops is essential. It helps with creativity, amongst other things”

    Having attended some of these meeting, you’re positive about that?

  34. Jim and Yet Another Chris are correct.

    Elec cars =shorthand for no more cars for plebs. oOr plebs first. Well-off mugs like the Theos of the world will be able to afford a few more years driving. Maybe until the middle class Marxist mugs get their reward for serving as troops for the globo elite. IE they get flopped lower than whaleshit same as anyone not globo “elite”. Battery-talk BS is just hot air for mugs.

  35. “My forte is engineering and not mining”

    Apart from artisanal mining, you won’t dig much out of the ground without engineers from a host of disciplines.

  36. ‘It’s easier and cheaper than ever to work remotely and have your purchases delivered to your door. ‘

    Reminds me of the young FedEx bloke who was panting after he dragged a load of boxes up my front stairs and banged on the door. He very sensibly didn’t have a mask on.

    Of course I then said to him, ‘This is 51 Arrol St, next door is 51 Orwell St. Katerina lives next door.’

  37. “Meeting in offices of workshops is essential. It helps with creativity, amongst other things”

    Having attended some of these meeting, you’re positive about that?

    Collaborating face to face is essential and extremely beneficial for teamwork and creativity. However, this does not mean all meetings are useful.

    Generally, I agree with you though. The idea that we’re going to be atomised homeworkers, communicating only via zoom and email, is a fantasy of skivers, autistic oddballs and part-time hacks who want to knock off at 3pm for savvy b and real housewives of wherever.

  38. Also an engineer, I understand the ‘no cars for the proles’ aspect of EV. It isn’t apwer source/engineering battle.

    But removing people’s boilers? (by turning off the gas).
    Banning wood stoves?
    And people in many areas won’t be allowed to rebuild their houses to use heatpumps, even if they could afford it (see ‘National Park’, ‘AONB’, etc) and even if the magic electriocity appeared from somewhere.

    So whatever happens on the EV front, the boiler front is heading Ecksian. Nowt to lose.

  39. For the last few years when out and about, I’ve been making a mental note whenever I’ve seen a milk float connected to a “public charger”. I’m honestly racking my brains to recall if I’ve seen it once!

    Ditto where I work. On the estate, a number of the premises have a few of these things in the car park. Again, don’t recall ever seeing a milk float connected.

    These things obviously are used, but I do wonder how often and by whom. If you don’t have a drive and a subsidised charger using – currently – relatively cheap night time tariffs, then I really don’t see how you can actually have one, even if you have overdosed on the kool aid and are desperate to.

    There apparently is an expectation that there will be 11 million of these toys on UK roads by 2030. Sales of a million plus year between now and then? Yeah, right!

  40. I’ve occasionally seen cars on public chargers. A friend has one of the small Beemer ones and he needs a whole handful of smart cards to cover all the chargers. I have seen Teslas on the chargers at Gonerby Moor services on the A1 but last time I was at Fleet services a couple of months ago the Tesla chargers were still covered in plastic. They must have been there for around 3 years now and still not in use.

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