Are EV batteries bad for the environment? EV batteries are bad for the environment because of the way the Cobalt used in the batteries are mined. However, EV batteries can be recycled and used for storage devices, for example homes. Here’s how.
There are hundreds of thousands of electric cars on the road in America, that’s a far cry from that poor little EV that was around twenty years ago.
Understandably people want to move away from fossil fuels and into electric cars due to climate change, and many people see cars as a major cause of climate change.
If co2 is the cause of climate change cars make up for about 20% of it, also cars pump out plenty of carbon monoxide in the atmosphere and lots of other pollutants so even if you’re a climate change denier you have to admit, cars don’t help clean air.
What about making the car? Here’s the thing, producing an electric car produces twice as much CO2 than producing a comparable internal combustion engine car, not to mention the environmental toll the battery production takes.
Why EV Batteries are Bad For The Environment?
There’s a lot of different types of metal that goes into an EV battery, there’s a lot of copper and cobalt that goes into an EV battery.
The area around these copper and cobalt mines in the Congo are facing a major challenge with polluted water supplies.
And because of that, they’re facing birth defects and cancer and other exposure issues.
These mines sell to battery production facilities for cars and most of it is headed to one destination in particular and that’s China.
So if you’re buying an electric car with a massive amount of batteries you’re contributing to these poor Congo babies being born with defects.
I’m sure you’ve heard about lithium-ion batteries, that’s what most of the new batteries are. It’s better technology and that’s what everybody wants to use, well where does that lithium come from?
Most of it comes from Latin America and in these areas around the mine, they’re facing a water crisis.
Here’s the thing, in the 21st century everybody’s predicting a major water crisis because we’re running out of good freshwater, and what’s contributing to this water crisis? Yeah, lithium production.
Can EV Batteries Poisen Drinking Water?
These miners pump in millions and millions of gallons of water into the desert underground where they extract lithium.
The sludge comes up and then they dry it out and scrape off the lithium, the leftover water is contaminated and is mostly unusable.
Not only that, they’re taking the freshwater away from people who can use it for drinking and agriculture, not only are they using up 60% of the region’s water they’re leaving behind this toxic sludge in a once pristine untouched region.
Can You Recycle EV Batteries?
What happens with old worn-out electric car batteries? A common belief is that because lithium-ion batteries often end up in landfills, as the batteries in these electric cars wear out, they’re going to contribute to additional environmental waste.
There’s an important distinction as to why this isn’t true. Lithium-ion batteries often end up incorrectly placed in the trash, because they’re small, easy to remove, and perhaps some people don’t simply know that there’s a proper way to dispose of them.
However, this isn’t quite so easy to do with car batteries. They’re massive, they weigh hundreds of pounds, it’s not something you’re just going to toss in your trash can or leave sitting in your garage not to mention it takes quite a bit of work to remove these batteries.
Also, the car manufacturer often ends up responsible for what happens to these batteries, not the consumer.
Let’s say you take your car in to get a new battery, they’re going to take your old one and give you a new one and they’re going to be responsible for what happens to that old battery.
What Happens With These Worn-out EV Batteries?
The best-case scenario for an old battery is for it to be reused, it’s the least energy-intensive and the most economical solution.
For example, let’s say you take your Nissan leaf to the dealership to get the battery replaced, they’re going to take that old battery and see if any parts of it can be reused.
Often old batteries have reusable battery modules that can be repurposed into other energy storage devices since weight and size are not as big of a concern for stationary objects, this is often where batteries can end up being reused.
One example is that Nissan is testing using old Nissan Leaf batteries to power street lights in Japan, the batteries are charged using solar panels so they don’t require an external power connection.
Another example is Renault will be repurposing used EV car batteries as energy storage devices for a smart island project they’re working on in Portugal.
These car batteries could also end up as storage devices for homes. For example, in my case my entire house uses about 12.5 kilowatt-hours of energy per day.
If I had an old Nissan Leaf 30 kilowatt-hour pack which was used as an energy storage, even if it was at half of its original capacity it could still power my house for an entire day in the event of a power outage.
What If The Batteries Are Fully Spent?
What if the batteries are fully spent and can’t be reused? I asked Nissan if their batteries can be fully recycled, their response, generally yes.
The pet components consist of steel, copper, aluminum and some plastic. The cells can be recycled via different methods to recover the cobalt, nickel, manganese and lithium mixtures.
The recovered materials are refined to necessary purities for reuse in industry and potentially also for manufacturing new battery cells.
There’s really no question about whether or not it’s possible to recycle electric car batteries, it absolutely is the challenge.
However, currently it could be more economical to simply buy new materials and create new batteries, rather than recycling the old batteries as it can be expensive to recycle these old batteries.
Part of the problem is the scale, as you can imagine every adoption is currently very low, and although it’s growing quickly there aren’t that many electric cars out on the road.
As a result, there are not that many electric car batteries, and because of this recycling them is that of a small-scale and so it’s very expensive. This will likely change as we get more and more electric cars on the road.
The same was once true of lead-acid batteries which are now recyclable and profitable to do so, like the one used to power the 12-volt accessories in the Nissan Leaf.
Another misconception about electric car batteries is just how much lithium they require. They’re only composed of about five to seven percent lithium with much greater quantities of cobalt and nickel which are more profitable to recycle.
Can electric car batteries be reused? Yes. Can they be recycled? Absolutely. Is it profitable to do so making it economically viable? Not quite but the scale is also really low but that’s likely to change in the future.
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