#BBC Future: #Lithium batteries’ big unanswered question
“The current method of simply shredding everything and trying to purify a complex mixture results in expensive processes with low value products,” says Andrew Abbott, a physical chemist at the University of Leicester. As a result, it costs more to recycle them than to mine more lithium to make new ones. Also, since large scale, cheap ways to recycle Li batteries are lagging behind, only about 5% of Li batteries are recycled globally, meaning the majority are simply going to waste.
But as demand for EVs escalates, as it’s projected to, the impetus to recycle more of them is set to barrel through the battery and motor vehicle industry.
The current shortcomings in Li battery recycling isn’t the only reason they are an environmental strain. Mining the various metals needed for Li batteries requires vast resources. It takes 500,000 gallons (2,273,000 litres) of water to mine one tonne of lithium. In Chile’s Atacama Salt Flats, lithium mining has been linked to declining vegetation, hotter daytime temperatures and increasing drought conditions in national reserve areas. So even though EVs may help reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions over their lifetime, the battery that powers them starts its life laden with a large environmental footprint.
We can no longer treat the batteries as disposable – Shirley Meng
If the millions upon millions of Li batteries that will give out after around 10 years or so of use are recycled more efficiently, however, it will help neutralise all that energy expenditure. Several labs have been working on refining more efficient recycling methods so that, eventually, a standardised, eco-friendly way to recycle Li batteries will be ready to meet skyrocketing demand.
“We have to find ways to make it enter what we call a circular lifecycle, because the lithium and the cobalt and nickel take a lot of electricity and a lot of effort to be mined and refined and made into the batteries. We can no longer treat the batteries as disposable,” says Shirley Meng, professor in energy technologies at the University of California, San Diego.
Read more at: Lithium batteries’ big unanswered question – BBC Future