Scientists warn of e-waste from electric vehicles
The lithium-ion batteries used in EVs are made up of critical metals such as manganese, copper, and cobalt.
Electric vehicles are going to be the future of transport. But it comes with a problem that scientists say we might be not taking seriously: recycling of batteries. A new research paper published in Nature asks for improved and scaled up recycling methods.
The lithium-ion batteries used in EVs are made up of critical metals such as manganese, copper, and cobalt. When the batteries die, they end up as e-waste in landfills around the world. An increase in their number might create more environmental issues for us.
Scientists suggest that we need better methods for recycling EV batteries. We also need to scale up the recycling infrastructure.
In 2017, around one million EVs were sold and resulted in 250,000 tons of battery pack waste. These discarded batteries can last up to 20 years.
The lead author of the study, Gavin Harper, says, “We have seen in the past with car tires and fridges how waste mountains can arise if we don’t anticipate waste management problems.”
This comes at a time when the world is moving towards an electric future. India has proposed to make all four-wheelers electric by 2030 and all two-wheelers electric by 2025.
How are batteries recycled today?
The batteries are heated to turn them into slag. From this slag, chemical separation techniques are used to recover specific metals like cobalt. But these techniques called as pyro and hydro-metallurgical techniques consume a lot of energy and produce toxic gases as byproducts. The byproducts recovered from the process are also of low-quality.
Better use of wasted batteries:
The batteries that cannot be used for driving can be repurposed for home batteries.
Instead of using the methods used currently, we can try to directly recycle these batteries. The cathodes can be used in new batteries without separating the individual metals.
Scientists also propose using biomining microbes that produce acid to take out key metals from batteries.
The cost and complexity of recycling methods need to be considered. Also, the batteries from EVs have the capability to electrocute the person doing the disassembly.
The batteries can also overheat, release toxic gases or even explode like smartphone batteries.
While talking to Vox, a mining expert says, “Companies must assume responsibility for the end-of-life of their products—which in turn means that products will be better designed for recovering minerals.”