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article imageWhat will we do with all those worn-out Lithium-ion batteries?

By Karen Graham     Aug 13, 2017 in Environment
Technology is a wonderful thing and with man's search for better products and innovations that enhance our lives, there is often one little issue that is overlooked - What do we do when the product wears out? Such is the case with Lithium-ion batteries.
The Guardian addresses the issue of dealing with lithium-ion batteries, now that the electric vehicle market has gathered momentum globally. From an environmental perspective, they ask: "What on earth will we do with an EVs half-tonne lithium-ion battery when it wears out?"
In most homes today, there are any number of gadgets, including watches, laptops, digital cameras and more that use lithium-ion batteries. Granted, most of them are small, compared to the big-boy Li-ion battery packs used in electric vehicles. And the EV automotive sector is growing rapidly.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) says there are over 2.0 million EVs worldwide on the road today, and they estimate that by 2030, there will be over 140 million EVs on the road.
The lithium  button battery  is quite small and easily swallowed by young children.
The lithium "button battery" is quite small and easily swallowed by young children.
YouTube
Lithium-ion batteries
Rechargeable Lithium-ion batteries (LIBs) use an intercalated lithium compound as one electrode material. This type of LIB electrolyte allows for the movement of the lithium ions between the two electrodes in the battery.
As far as performance, chemistry, and safety go, these issues vary across the spectrum of uses. Most of our handheld electronics use lithium cobalt oxide (LiCoO2), which has a high energy density but presents safety risks
LIBs used in power tools and medical equipment uses a different lithium-ion mix, such as Lithium iron phosphate or lithium nickel manganese cobalt oxide. These batteries offer lower energy density, but longer life and a better degree of safety. Electric vehicle makers are developing new variations on lithium-ion chemistry that while sacrificing energy and power density, provide fire resistance and environmental friendliness.
As of December 2016  the Nissan Leaf is the world s all-time best-selling electric car with more tha...
As of December 2016, the Nissan Leaf is the world's all-time best-selling electric car with more than 250,000 units sold since 2010.
Mic from Reading - Berkshire, United Kingdom
Environmental concerns and recycling
Generally, most small LIBs have safety features manufactured into the core of the battery to prevent over-discharge, overheating and fires. At one time, not so many years ago, LIBs were classified as being a non-hazardous waste. Li-ion battery elements including iron, copper, nickel, and cobalt are considered safe for incinerators and landfills. These metals can be recycled.
However, with the advent of larger LIBs, the issue of dumping them in landfills or trying to recycle the lithium will end up being a problem. In the European Union, as few as 5.0 percent of LIBs are recycled. This creates a hefty environmental cost because if the batteries are damaged, they can give off toxic gases, while the core ingredients such as lithium and cobalt seeping into the environment can pollute the water.
Ion battery monitoring electronics (over- and discharge protection)
Ion battery monitoring electronics (over- and discharge protection)
selbst fotografiert
Marc Grynberg, the chief executive of Belgian battery and recycling giant Umicore, spoke with the Guardian. He said, “Car producers will be accountable for the collection and recycling of spent lithium-ion batteries. Given their sheer size, batteries cannot be stored at home and landfilling is not an option.”
The European Union has regulations in place to deal with the coming influx of EV lithium-ion batteries. In a nut shell, the regulations require all battery manufacturers to finance the costs of collecting, treating and recycling all collected batteries, and this has already led to some innovative pairing ups between automotive companies and battery makers.
But while smelting can recover metals like cobalt and nickel, lithium ends up in a mixed byproduct. Each time an additional process is used to recover it, the price goes up. And there are very few companies willing to sink that kind of money into a metal that gives them little returns.
Cellphones dumped in a pile
Discarded old cell phones.
Courtesy Geitan Lee, flickr.com
Investment bank Morgan Stanley is forecasting there will be very little recycling of lithium over the next decade, and there will be insufficient recycling infrastructure in place when the current supply of LIBs wear out.
“There still needs to be more development to get to closed loop recycling where all materials are reclaimed,” says Jessica Alsford, head of the bank’s global sustainable research team. “There’s a difference between being able to do something and it making economic sense.”
Linda Gaines, a transportation system analyst and electric vehicle battery expert at the Argonne National Laboratory in Lemont, Illinois says: “The bottom line is there’s time to build plants”. “But”, she adds, “we don’t know what kinds of batteries they’ll be yet. It would help if the batteries were standardized and designed for recycling, but they’re not.”
More about Lithiumion batteries, electric vehicles, Waste management, battery safety, toxic emissions
 
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