Battery Recycling As A Solution
With tons of research and money going into recycling, its only normal for recycling to be a suggested solution. Rather than tossing out batteries into the trash, they can pass through the recycling process to serve a new life.
However, the recycling rate and process largely depend on the battery type. First, lets explore the lead-acid battery. This battery is recycled globally. Studies also reveal a 99.3% battery recycling rate7.
The best part is that every battery component is recyclable and reusable. That is, parts like lead, plastic, and sulfuric acid can play roles in producing new batteries. In terms of sustainability, this is a win. Recycling reduces the pressure on mining new lead, and it also reduces waste. Furthermore, it reduces the amount of lead in landfills.
Recycling li-ion is a different practice. Unlike lead-acid variants that recycling companies can easily work with, this one is not as easy. Although recycling lithium-ion batteries is technically possible, its a more complicated process.
Lithium is barely ever recycled due to its complicated life cycle. Throughout their lifespan, these batteries go through irreversible damage. What this means is that its impossible to repurpose them simply. As a result, recyclers need to tear the battery apart and extract the lithium. Afterward, they can re-manufacture them.
Recycling And Reuse Of Batteries
Some see recycling and reuse as an answer to these issues. If we can recycle much of the volume of batteries produced, the world will require much less battery production. Batteries typically retain significant capacity once they have come to the end of their original application, creating a significant market for reuse, while the parts of a spent battery can be recycled.
Circular Energy Storage estimates that in 2025 all larger li-ion battery markets will have recycling capacity that greatly exceeds the supply of waste batteries.
It is difficult to measure the volume of li-on batteries entering the global market but research and consulting company Circular Energy Storage estimated in a 2021 report that the market had grown by 720% since 2009. The volume of cells entering the global market increased by 16% just between 2018 to 2019.
This would seem to create significant opportunities for recycling companies, but there is no bonanza of used batteries emerging just over the horizon. Half of all EV batteries will only reach the end of their life after 15 years, and manufacturers are constantly working on ways to extend product life.
So the growth in batteries available for recycling will be much slower than installed capacity. Building recycling capacity will require high upfront investment, while the value of end-of-life batteries will be low, and there will be insufficient scale to build efficiencies.
Lithium: Not As Clean As We Thought
By Alex Kim
While electric cars reduce fossil fuel emissions once they are on the road, the production of the lithium-ion batteries that power them causes more displacement and CO2 emissions than the production of regular gas-powered cars. Disposal of the batteries at the end of their life cycle is also a growing concern.
There are carbon dioxide and other greenhouse emissions that come with the process of extraction, said Zeke Hausfather, a scientist at climate research nonprofit Berkeley Earth told Climate360. not like CO2 comes out of the lithium, but it does take energy to mine things today many of those systems involve emitting CO2. Lithium-ion battery mining and production were determined to be worse for the climate than the production of fossil fuel vehicle batteries in an article from The Wall Street Journal.
Cumulative energy demand measures how much energy is expended in the production of car batteries. According to scientists measure CED, production of the average lithium-ion battery uses three times more electrical energy compared to a generic battery.
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Where Do Batteries Come From
The Italian physicist Alessandro Volta invented the first true battery in 1800. In 1859, Gaston Planté came up with the first rechargeable battery. Lithium-ion batteries didnt enter the scene until 1980. And it took 11 more years until they were first commercialized by Sony.
This safe, compact, and energy-dense battery unleashed the mobile revolution, powering camcorders, laptops, smartphones, and most other portable consumer electronics we know today. In 2019, the scientists that invented the lithium-ion battery received the Nobel Prize in chemistry.
Lets dive into the material makeup of lithium-ion batteries that turned them into these powerful drivers of change.
Battery Production And The Environmental Impact Of Battery Manufacturing
Today, many of our electronics and electric cars rely on lithium, an alkali metal. Its almost impossible not to own products that rely on lithium batteries.
On the one hand, theres an economic advantage for countries that export this raw material. However, theres also the environmental challenge lithium extraction and production pose.
Lithium-ions production process presents challenges to people and the planet. During production, it requires large amounts of water and energy. It also creates soil and air pollution problems that affect the climate and safety of our world.
In terms of direct human impact, theres the ethical challenge of unsafe conditions within mines. In developing countries where producers extract these raw materials, there are cases of child labor where both children and adults face unsafe conditions.
With lithium production and consumption growing exponentially, its necessary to dive into the impact. Studies reveal a projected growth rate of US$30 billion in 2017 to $100 billion in 2025 within the lithium-ion batteries market4. At the same time, according to a report by the Global Battery Alliance, a public-private partnership led by the World Economic Forum, batteries have the potential to enable 30% of reductions in greenhouse gasemissions within the transport and power sectors1.
Environmental Effects Associated with the Production of Li-Ion Batteries
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Solid Power Is Betting On Its Proprietary Sulfide Solid Electrolyte
Solid Power Inc. is working on a couple of all-solid-state battery designs, including one of the few to use an anode made primarily of silicon. Silicon is lighter than metal and more resistant to damage, making it an attractive alternative. But silicon can swell up to 300% of its original size, creating cracks and significantly decreasing energy storage. Fortunately, because the solid-state design doesnt have the flammable liquids of a standard lithium-ion battery, Solid Power has been able to address that challenge.
What stands out most about its design, though, is the sulfide solid electrolyte. Acting as both an electrolyte and a barrier between the anode and cathode, Solid Powers proprietary sulfide-based solid electrolyte offers good conductivity and simple manufacturability. However, the challenge with using sulfides is that they dont prevent dendrites and they can be unstable. These are both especially big problems in batteries containing lithium. Solid Power says its proprietary electrolyte has been tuned for lithium metal stability.
About Electrovaya Inc.
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Where Do Batteries Come From And Where Do They Go
Every day, you use some type of battery. Your phone runs on a rechargeable lithium-ion battery, as do most of your other electronic devices. Your computers motherboard contains a non-rechargeable lithium coin cell, known as CMOS battery. Your cars combustion engine starts on a rechargeable wet cell battery, typically the lead acid type. The list goes on.
Editors note: This post was updated on October 25, 2022 address frequently asked questions.
Batteries have a limited lifespan. AirPods batteries will last anywhere from 18 months to three years. In 2021, around 300 million true wireless earbuds were sold globally, and experts expect the market to grow further. As a result, we can expect over 450 million of those batteries to reach their end-of-life by the end of 2023 and more thereafter. And thats just earbuds.
Already a staple in consumer electronics like headphones, lithium-ion batteries also power electric vehicles. Bloomberg New Energy Finance projects that electric cars will make up 34% of sales by 2030, compared to 4% in 2020. This rapid increase in demand translates into upstream adaptations in mining and production.
You may be wondering whether this kind of growth is sustainable and how well deal with all the waste. Thats what were here to find out.
Unlike single-use lithium batteries, lithium-ion batteries are rechargeable.
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Ses Ai Opts For Ceramic
Like Electrovaya, SES AI Corp. is working on a hybrid design that incorporates both solid and liquid layers into a lightweight, less flammable battery. The lithium metal batteries SES is developing, however, use a polymer coating rather than ceramic. While more flexible and less susceptible to damage from dendrites a kind of corrosion that happens as the battery ages it has lower ionic conductivity and less heat resistance compared to ceramic.
Last November, SES unveiled Apollo, the scaled-up version of its Li-Metal battery, which is large enough to power a car. The prototype is one of the first lithium-metal batteries to be built to this size and boasts an energy density of 417 watt-hours per kilogram and weighs less than two pounds. However, the hybrid battery still has years of safety and performance testing before it can find its way into consumer vehicles.
Potential Environmental And Human Health Impacts Of Rechargeable Lithium Batteries In Electronic Waste
*Environ. Sci. Technol.
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Recycle Lithium Ion Batteries
If none of the above tips works, we should dismantle lithium ion batteries and recycle them safely. The University of Birmingham in the UK is exploring ways of using robotics technology to do this and limit the negative impact of the cells. This might allow experts to extract the ion safely and reuse it.
Other researchers have proposed a biological recycling process that would use bacteria to process waste batteries and extra lithium and other essential raw materials and reuse them.
After reducing the production scale, lithium miners should use clean energy to minimize carbon dioxide emissions.
Why You Shouldnt Throw Batteries In The Trash
Lithium-ion batteries can cause fires when exposed to heat, mechanical stress, or other waste materials. Once exposed, the elements contained in the batteries could leach into the environment and contaminate the soil and groundwater. While this shouldnt present an issue at a well-managed domestic facility, exported trash might end up at a more lenient landfill. Richa et al. note that the greater risk is loss of valuable materials.
Sufficiently concentrated natural resources of lithium, cobalt, nickel, and other elements are finite. As discussed above, their mining has irreversible consequences. By the time these materials end up in our gadgets, weve paid a high social and environmental price for damage done along their supply chains.
Before long, demand for some materials will exceed mining yields. One recent study projects that lithium and cobalt demand could exceed production as soon as 2025. When you then take into account that, on average, spent lithium-ion battery electrodes contain more Lithium than natural ores, youll quickly conclude that even dead batteries have value.
As demand outpaces mining capacities, recycling morphs from an ethical obligation to an economically viable alternative, and possibly a necessity.
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What Are The Environmental Drawbacks
- Intensive extraction: Two types of mining commonly required to extract minerals for batteries are open-pit mining and brine extraction. These extraction processes can cause erosion and pollution.
- Open-pit mining: In order to make way for an open pit, vegetation must be cleared away. Then, a deep pit is dug. Together, these factors create conditions for erosion. Mining can create toxic soils and dust with high concentrations of heavy metals. These dusts become contaminants that put people and animals at a higher risk of illness.
- Brine extraction: Brine extraction drains water from natural underground reserves of drinking water. This water is depleted from the ecosystem more quickly than it can be replaced through the water cycle. Brine extraction also requires toxic chemicals to process lithium. The release of these chemicals harms air, soil, and water quality.
Why Are The Fields So Colourful
The vivid hues of the lithium fields, or ponds, are caused by different concentrations of lithium carbonate. Their colours can range from a pinky white, to a turquoise, to a highly concentrated, canary yellow.
A 2015 piece in the New Scientist described the fields as surreal landscapes where batteries are born.
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Increases Carbon Dioxide Emissions
The entire lithium extraction process contributes to an increase in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Lithium miners cut down trees and remove all other life forms from their targeted mining areas to eliminate obstructions.
Cut down trees
Green plants and trees remove excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere during photosynthesis. So, lithium miners hinder this process from occurring. Lithium miners also use heavy machinery that consumes a lot of energy and produces various toxic gases, including carbon dioxide.
So, your electric car might have a net-negative impact on carbon emissions. However, metal extraction is carbon-intensive, especially when miners dont use clean energy.
Thats not all, though. The production of an EV battery weighing 500kg emits over 70% more carbon dioxide than a traditional car in Germany.
Overall, lithium extraction and production of electric car batteries contribute to the increase in global temperatures and unpredictable climatic conditions.
Technology And Operations Management
Tesla is one of the most important companies addressing climate change with their core products their fleet of cars and their suite of clean energy technologies. The environmental impact of the massive boom in lithium-ion battery production should be examined and mitigated.
Teslas background and focus on climate change
Tesla is one of the most innovative and impactful companies tackling climate change. Teslas management clearly made tackling climate change a focus and the company has capitalized on the recent swell in public interest around the topic. As a result, Tesla has performed incredibly well it has one of the most recognizable brands in the world and its stock price increased tenfold in the last 5 years . More companies can and should follow Teslas lead.
Lithium-ion batteries where Tesla could do more
Lithium-ion batteries play a key role in Teslas product portfolio. They power Teslas electric cars and are the storage medium for Teslas battery storage product, the Powerwall. To produce lithium-ion batteries, Tesla has built a massive manufacturing facility in Reno, NV called the Gigafactory which will dramatically increase the number of lithium-ion batteries on the market. By 2018, the Gigafactory will produce more lithium-ion batteries annually than were produced worldwide in 2013 .
Questions for discussion
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Researcher Aims To Make Lithium Ion Batteries More Eco
New methods of recovering rare metals from spent batteries could be a win-win for the environment and manufacturers looking to cut costs.
Engineering masters student Anil Kumar Vinayak is exploring more sustainable and affordable ways to recover the valuable metals used in lithium ion batteries.
Powering everything from cellphones to electric vehicles, lithium-ion batteries are part of everyday life but they also wear out eventually, and that comes with a cost to the environment.
Now, a University of Alberta researcher is exploring how to recycle and regenerate the spent batteries in more eco-friendly ways.
Experimenting with a recovery method for metals like lithium and cobalt that are used in the batteries, Anil Kumar Vinayak, a masters student in the Faculty of Engineering, is underpinning his work with the principles of a circular economy.
The idea is based on a closed-loop system in which products and their components are used to the fullest, then ideally recycled, reused, regenerated, upcycled or refurbished to minimize waste and pollution.
With waste from electrical and electronic equipment rapidly accumulating over the last decade, adopting this approach will aid in resolving a major chunk of the issues we face in terms of waste management and associated environmental challenges, Vinayak believes.
All of the work shows promising results for performance, he notes.
The impact is quite relevant and imminent.
Other Popular Battery Types
Apart from li-ion batteries, the world uses a host of other battery types. Some other popular ones include:
Not to be confused with li-ion batteries, lithium batteries are a type of non-rechargeable battery. The lithium battery possesses primary cell construction and offers high energy densities. These battery types come in AA, AAA, and 9V sizes. Producers use lithium batteries in both small and large electronic devices. They are great for portable devices due to their lightweight nature.
Lead Acid Batteries
The lead acid battery is an older battery technology that people explored for its durability, efficiency, and low costs. This type of battery works for many battery power applications.
One of their most popular uses is in conventional automotive vehicles, where the large surge and current capacity make them ideal for starting internal combustion engines. Today, lithium battery production has been replacing the lead acid variants. However, manufacturers continue to use lead-acid batteries in various applications, from automobiles and motorcycles to backup power systems.
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