A A tsunami in electric vehicles is expected to hit the number of car companies and governments. By 2030, the road is projected to be 145m. But while electric vehicles may play a significant role in reducing emissions, their potential local time bombs – their batteries.

It is estimated that more than 12m tons of lithium-ion batteries will be retired by 2030.

These batteries do not only require a lot of raw materials with lithium, nickel and cobalt – minerals, climate, environmental and human rights impacts – they threaten to leave a mountain of electronic waste at the end of their lives.

As the automotive industry begins to change, experts say now is the time to plan for batteries at the end of their lives, reduce dependence on minerals, and keep materials distributed.

Second Life

Hundreds of millions of dollars are being poured into recycling startups and research centers to learn how to dispose of dead batteries and quantify waste metals.

If we want to do more with the materials we have, recycling should not be the first solution, said James Penington, who heads the World Economic Forum’s round economy program. “The best thing to do is to use it for a long time,” he said.

“There are many [battery] When used for the first time in electric vehicles, capacity is lost, ”said Jessica Richter, an environmental policy researcher at Lund University. These batteries may no longer be able to run vehicles, but they can have a second life by storing excess energy from the sun or wind.

Many companies conduct experiments. Enel Group is using 90 batteries from retired Nissan Leather cars at a power plant in Melilla, Spain, isolated from the Spanish National Grid. In the UK, power company Powervalt has partnered with Rennell to replace home energy storage systems with retired batteries.

An employee installs a lithium-ion battery cell in a test system at the Powervalt office in London.  Powervault is one of the many companies offering secondary life for lithium-ion batteries.
An employee installs a lithium-ion battery cell in a test system at the Powervalt office in London. Photograph – Simon Dawson / Bloomberg by Getty Images

Establishing a flow of lithium-ion batteries in a permanent power supply from the first life to the second life in electric vehicles has another advantage: displacement of toxic lead-acid batteries.

About 60% of lead-acid batteries are used only in cars, and another 20% are used to store excess solar energy, especially in the solar system.

Lead-acid batteries usually last only about two years in hot weather, so fuller can quickly reduce heat, which means they have to be reused. However, there are few institutions in Africa that can do this safely.

Instead, these batteries often open and melt in the backyard. The process exposes recycling agents and their environment to a leading, known level of safe and potent neurotoxin that can impair brain development in children.

Lithium-ion batteries can provide a less toxic and longer-lasting alternative to energy storage, Fuller said.

Competition for reuse

“If a battery is really out of date, it’s time to reuse it,” says Pennington.

There is a huge speed behind the reuse of lithium-ion batteries. In its August results report, Tesla announced that it had begun rebuilding recycling capabilities at Nevada’s Gigabitorium to process waste batteries.

Founded by former Tesla chief technology officer Jars Strabel outside of Carson City, Nevada, nearby Redwood Funds plans to raise more than $ 700 million in July to expand. The factory picks up dead batteries, extracts precious metals such as copper and cobalt, and sends refined metals to the battery supply chain.

However, as recycling becomes more important, major technical challenges remain.

One of these is the complex designs that must be recycled to reach valuable parts. Lithium-ion batteries rarely take into account recovery capacity, says Carlton Cummins, co-founder of Akleronron, a British battery manufacturer. “That’s why recycling is struggling. They want to do the job, but they only get to know each other when the product arrives.

Cummins and co-founder Amrit Chandan are focused on one design flaw: the way the bodies meet. Most of the parts are glued together, which is good for electrical connection, but bad for reuse, Cummins said.

Aceleron batteries connect metal contacts to connectors. These connections can be disconnected and the links removed, which can lead to complete disassembly or removal of the individual components.

Simple disassembly also helps to reduce security risks. Improved lithium-ion batteries can cause fire and explosion hazards. “If we take it to pieces, I can assure you it will not hurt anyone,” Cummins said.

Changing the system

Success is not guaranteed even if the technical challenges are broken. History has shown to us how difficult it is to create reusable industries.

For example, lead-acid batteries enjoy partial recycling due to legal requirements: up to 99% of lead batteries are recycled. But when they end up in inappropriate redevelopment facilities, they have a toxic value. Used batteries often end up with a backyard recycling Because they have to pay a higher operating cost, they can pay more than normal recycling.

Lithium-ion batteries may be less toxic, but they should still be used safely. Pennington: “Products flow in the least resilient way.

The law can help. Although the United States has not yet implemented federal policies requiring the re-use of lithium-ion batteries, the European Union and China are already demanding that battery manufacturers pay for the installation and recycling systems. These funds could subsidize regular recyclers to make them more competitive, Pennington said.

Last December, the European Union introduced changes to its battery regulations, most of them targeting lithium-ion batteries. These include 70% target rates for battery collection, 95% recovery rates for cobalt, copper, lead and nickel and 70% for lithium, and by 2030 the mandatory minimum rates for recycled content in new batteries – to ensure there are recycling markets. And protect them from changing commodity prices or changing battery chemistry.

“They’re not on the final form, but the ideas are great,” Richard said.

Data can also help. The European Union and the International Battery Alliance (GBA), public and private partnerships are both working on digital “passport” versions: an electronic record for a battery that contains information about its entire life cycle.

We are thinking about QR code or A [radio frequency identification] Says Torston Friend, who runs the GBA battery passport initiative. It can report battery health and residual capacity, which can help vehicle manufacturers reuse or reuse equipment. Material information can help recycle lithium-ion batteries carry countless chemicals. And after recycling is widespread, the passport may indicate the amount of content reused in new batteries.

As the automotive industry begins to change, it is time to address these issues, said May Ben Drore, director of the World Economic Forum. “The investment will provide an opportunity to ensure that these investments are not only in the new car but also in the sustainable new ecosystem,” he said.

It should also be noted that continuous transportation goes beyond electric cars, says Richter. He said walking, cycling or public transport should not be neglected. It is important to remember that we can have a sustainable product in a non-sustainable system.