Electric vehicle industry needs a better battery recycling system
Electric cars have reached their escape speed. Almost every automaker has finally accepted that they can no longer stand aside and hope that the electrification trend will be a fad, because it will not be.
But while electric vehicles are in theory much more environmentally friendly than combustion engine cars, there are still a few hurdles to overcome before they truly contribute to zero emissions for the environment. the BBC this week published an article on the challenge of recycling EV batteries so that new batteries do not require removing so much raw material from the earth.
Recycling is difficult – About 5% of the world’s lithium-ion batteries are actually recycled, according to some estimates. This is mainly because it has never been economical and the recycling techniques are crude, often involving manual disassembly by a human. Giant batteries in electric cars pose an even greater challenge, as they can be made up of hundreds of individual lithium-ion cells that must be safely disassembled.
The recycling problem is not new. Much of the recycling stream in the United States can end up in landfill because the economy is bad. Virgin plastics have long been cheaper than recycled plastics, for example.
Fortunately, since batteries are the most expensive component in a car, the rise of electric cars is pushing automakers to find ways to reuse materials as much as possible. Tesla, at its “Battery Day” event last year, detailed how the company hopes to recover cobalt from old batteries for use in newer ones. Nissan reuses old batteries from its Leaf guides for use in vehicles that deliver parts to its warehouses. Volkswagen recently opened a recycling plant in Germany where it hopes to recycle up to 3,600 battery systems per year soon.
Investments could reduce the cost of recycling, for example through automation techniques. The United States Environmental Protection Agency has also created a $ 5.5 million award for battery recycling, which encourages the development of new techniques.
These developments cannot come soon enough as governments around the world strive to move away from flue gas in the coming decade.
Optimistic outlook – Critics of electric cars used to say that much of the electricity used to charge them came from power grids that use coal and other fossil fuels. It seems like a distant proposition that the world may one day be powered entirely by renewables, but it’s happening faster than you might think. For a brief period last week, California produced 95% of its energy from clean energy. The UK has also broken records for its use of renewable energy.
Thus, these challenges can be overcome. It is lazy to dismiss electric cars because the battery problem has yet to be solved. There was no incentive to do the job of tearing those batteries apart as there weren’t a lot of electric cars on the road in the first place. But maybe now that the tides are turning, dismantling and selling old materials could be a profitable niche to break into. Or governments could step in and demand that vehicle purchases include a tax that pays for recycling infrastructure. This would dissociate the recycling process from the pursuit of profit because business.
Either way, electric car batteries need to be recycled, otherwise we will continue to unsustainably strip the earth and pollute the environment. The less we waste on old batteries, the more we will have.