Electric vehicles (EVs) have been hailed to answer the pollution and environmental damage that gas-powered cars produce. While they do offer many benefits to both drivers and the environment, electric vehicles are not perfect.
The greatest damage electric vehicles can cause comes from the very thing that makes them environmentally friendly: their batteries. While these efficient vehicles do not burn exhaust or require gasoline, their batteries are toxic when not reused or disposed of properly.
With the growing demand for electric and hybrid cars and no concrete solution to the lithium-ion battery dilemma, it is difficult to know what to do after the batteries in your electric vehicle have degraded.
While electric cars do reduce direct carbon emissions over their lifetime, they can potentially produce more environmental damage than conventional vehicles. The lithium-ion batteries production that power electric cars create tons of CO2 emissions unless recycling and repurposing tactics are implemented.
Giving Batteries a Second Life
While lithium-ion batteries have a limited shelf life in a vehicle, they still contain a considerable amount of power and potential after being too exhausted to be used in an EV. As a result, the remaining energy can be utilized for powering a variety of appliances.
Most drivers notice their EV batteries are exhausting once they begin functioning at 20 percent below-average capacity. However, this does not mean that the battery is anywhere near the end of its life. Electric car batteries are made to last for the lifetime of the car, which is approximately 8 to 12 years.
Once the battery degrades, the vehicle does not function the way it used to. After this occurs, the battery can be replaced, and the old one can be used to power numerous stationary appliances, including streetlights, stadiums, and makeshift power walls at home. EV batteries that were given a second life can serve an additional 6 to 10 years in lower-power appliances and uses.
Companies such as Nissan, Ford, and Toyota are giving EV batteries a second life by exploring how they can be used to store power generated by wind turbines and solar panels. Additionally, Chevrolet has been utilizing batteries from its first-generation Volt for backup power at a General Motors data center.
Although lithium-ion batteries can be reused to power numerous appliances, they will eventually run out of power. At that point, effective and safe recycling policies and procedures will need to be implemented to extract all the different components.
The reason why EV batteries cannot be thrown out and sit in a landfill is that they are made of toxic and metals, including cobalt, lithium, and lead-acid that can seep into both the air and waterways. As a result, recycling and putting all of these materials to new use, even a new electric battery, will prevent toxic environmental degradation.
Recycling electric car batteries involve separating the different metals they are made of through smelting, similar to the process used in mining. Unfortunately, this process is not very efficient. It also uses a lot of energy and requires high building and operating costs. Furthermore, fewer efforts have gone into improving the recycling process than increasing the batteries’ lives and reducing vehicle costs.
Moreover, while many manufacturers can remove the nickel and cobalt, lithium remains as a byproduct. The process of recovering lithium gets more and more expensive with each process required to separate it. As a result, many manufacturers are unwilling to spend their financial resources completely recycling the battery when they obtain little returns from it.
However, recycling batteries has many benefits, including lowering the cost of manufacturing and subsequently, the cost of electric vehicles. The concentrations of metals such as cobalt and nickel are higher in lithium-ion batteries than can be easily found in natural ores. Fortunately, there are several startups and universities making efforts to improve recycling of EV batteries
Disposing of the Batteries
When you are ready for a new electric battery, you cannot leave the battery standing in your garage or throw it away with your Wednesday garbage. Along with the fact that EV batteries are hefty and inconvenient to handle, both options will leave you or your local dump with an object that will leak and emit toxins.
Currently, closed-looped recycling of lithium-ion batteries does not exist. There are many barriers to creating effective recycling plans and policies for batteries. These barriers include the dangers and risks associated with specific steps of the dissembling process, as well as other alternative energy competitors that make manufacturers question whether recycling or remaking EV batteries will even be worthwhile in the future.
Depending on your car’s manufacturer and where you live, you may have several options for disposing of an EV battery. For instance, Nissan can recycle and reuse their car batteries; thus, your vehicle manufacturer may be able to do the same. You can also search for local recycling plants to see if they recycle EV batteries if your manufacturer does not have specific procedures for recycling or reusing the battery.