The Environmental Issues of Electric Car Batteries

by moveforward on September 2, 2011

Waste managing EV batteries

As more and more electric cars are bought by environmentally conscious individuals, the next issue that concerns environmentalists is the proper disposal and management of the electric car batteries.

There are two major schools of thought regarding the management of used batteries of the electric vehicle revolution. The first school of thought is to recycle the batteries. The second school of thought is to repurpose the batteries.

In recycling, urban mining is conducted. This is a new term called for the extraction of valuable metals from discarded electronics especially batteries. There is even a move now to invest in creating an infrastructure to extract precious metals from depleted battery packs of the first generation of electric cars. To many, the environmental purpose would be defeated if the depleted batteries would not be recycled. Furthermore, there is a whole host of penalties and fines as well as legal action should these batteries end up in landfills. With stricter laws in effect today, battery pack management is legally enforceable against the carmaker, regardless of the battery manufacturer.

The urgency of recycling has been held back though because of the cost and profit factors. The newer model lithium batteries do not have much valuable precious metals to urban mine, so to speak, compared to earlier battery models. Lithium is quite plentiful as a metal compared to the nickel and cobalt used in batteries of first generation batteries and electric or hybrid vehicles. Overall, recycling lithium costs five times more than to mine lithium in Chile or Bolivia, where the metal abounds.

There are also complications in managing depleted batteries. First they are much larger compared to current batteries, some weighing in at 550 pounds. In some instances, the battery array is the most expensive part of the electric car and complicated to set-up, rather than the extractable metals from the batteries. Furthermore, even depleted battery packs carry electrical energy and when mishandled, can cause fire or shock to individuals.

With this as the landscape, the carmakers have taken different paths to manage the problem and propose creative solutions. Even governments have taken the initiative to provide infrastructure for the proper waste management of depleted lithium ion batteries. Even the old lead based batteries are part of the mix, as they provide an environmental risk because of the lead acid content. As for us, the electric car consumer, we all would wait and see on how things unravel in the near future.

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