With how things are going today, from talks of climate change to surging gas prices, electric cars will likely make petrol and diesel cars obsolete in the not-so-distant future.
Drivers around the world are being encouraged to transition to vehicles that run on renewable energy to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. And millions have already made the jump, with millions of others expected to follow suit in the coming years.
However, there are still a number of concerns that need to be addressed before electric cars can truly be environmentally friendly. Chief among those concerns is how the lithium-ion batteries powering the cars are manufactured and eventually disposed of.
While the cars themselves don’t emit greenhouse gasses, the emissions from the production of their batteries can still have a significant impact on the environment. Much of the emissions are said to occur during the mining of the raw materials, specifically lithium and cobalt. The electricity used by the factories manufacturing and assembling the battery also contributes to the emissions.
Batteries, of course, won’t last forever, and will eventually have to be decommissioned. When they reach their end of life date, they’ll likely be taken to landfills, where they can possibly contaminate the soil and the water, which then poses new safety risks.
And this is a problem because the demand for batteries will only increase over time, with the number of electric vehicles on the road expected to rise from 10 million in 2020 to over 145 million in 2030, according to the International Emergency Agency.
So what’s the solution? Nils Steinbrecher, Managing Director of TES Sustainable Battery Solutions, APAC and EMEA, believes that battery recycling is the key to lowering the impact of electric vehicles on the environment.
“As the demand for lithium-ion batteries increases, the availability of raw materials for their production is limited. Therefore, recycling batteries secure these primary raw materials and add another source to the supply of scarce resources, especially in countries where such materials are not available from mining, such as in Europe,” he explains.
Steinbrecher says battery recycling could give rise to urban mining, which focuses on the recovery of secondary raw materials and energy from the products of urban waste disposal, including electronics. Rather than harvest new materials, why not reuse, repurpose, and recondition old materials and in turn promote long-term environmental sustainability? The process could take anywhere between a few days to a few weeks, depending on the battery’s characteristics.
He notes that the TES can recover lithium carbonate, cobalt hydroxide, sodium sulphate, graphite, copper, aluminium and steel. These recycled materials are then used for products and services that support the overall life cycle of existing batteries. Outside of this, TES also offers their second-life batteries as power alternatives for green energy plants, remote industrial power and base transmit stations, among other applications.
All of these are centred around the company's 4Rs:
1. Repair and remanufacture of batteries for first-life applications
2. Reuse and repurpose for second-life applications
3. Recycle batteries to produce black mass from the mechanical process
4. Recover raw materials from the black mass through the hydrometallurgical process
Steinbrecher stresses that battery recycling is an urgent concern that should be addressed now as electric car adoption steadily rises.
“We need to address these challenges now. The demand for batteries is set to increase 14-fold by 2030, and the projected volume of lithium batteries for recycling will increase 700-fold between 2020 and 2040.
“In the very near future, large amounts of battery scrap are expected in Europe from the battery giga-factories being built over the short term. Here, the amount of scrap is expected to be bigger early as they start production, compared to more efficient plants that have been running for a few years,” he added.
The TES is reportedly already working with seven of the world’s top ten electric car manufacturers in recycling batteries. The company said that while the volume of batteries is relatively small, it’s focusing only on two key hubs, Asia and Europe. Its recycling plant in Asia is located here in Singapore, with another set to open in Shanghai before the year ends.