Here's how some of the smartest brains in the world are discovering ways to reduce the mostly hidden environmental -- and human -- cost of lithium-ion batteries that are at the heart of EVs.
Even as electric vehicles (EVs) are touted as the future of mobility and a more sustainable tomorrow, their contribution to the environment is clouded with question marks over their manufacturing and disposal. Electric vehicles do not have exhausts pumping out emissions, but they use rare earth elements such as lithium, nickel and cobalt, which are extracted from the ground with very polluting processes.
Apart from the environmental costs, they are also linked to human rights violations in African countries where cobalt is mined for use in batteries that power electric vehicles. A concerted effort is on to ensure that the electric vehicle revolution is actually green.
Here’s a list of eco-innovations, as listed by The Guardian.
Eco-innovations around the world
To mine lithium used in EV batteries from land deposits or subterranean aquifers, vast amounts of groundwater is pumped out in large pools and evaporated. Eramet, a French metal company, is testing a process based on ‘nanofiltration,’ that will filter the water and return it to the aquifer. Eramet has invested a capital of 200 million euros in the project.
UK-based startup Aceleron is using the compression method to reduce the need to bond components in a battery pack of a smartphone. This will make it easier to repair, service or repurpose a battery pack.
Newcastle-based firm Connected Energy is using old batteries as stationary power storage units. The company used these second-life power units in industrial sites in the UK and Europe. It hopes to double the number of batteries in use in the coming months and ramp up from 2025 when first-time EV drivers start updating their cars.
According to an unpublished research by Lancaster University, one megawatt-hour provided by Connected Energy’s storage system is equal to saving about 1,100 tonnes of carbon dioxide, the Guardian reported.
When it comes to recycling, Belgium-based smelting firm and miner Umicore has developed a system that melts down the core components of the battery, such as copper, nickel, and cobalt, into a metal alloy and a concentrate with lithium and other rare elements.
“Low impact battery recycling will be essential to lower the overall carbon footprint of rechargeable battery materials and will provide recycled content to drive the shift towards electric mobility,” The Guardian quoted company spokesperson Marjolein Scheers as saying
Innovations in India
A number of start-ups in India are also focussing on battery technology and solutions. Lohum, founded in 2018, extracts materials like cobalt, graphite and manganese suphalte and uses them to produce new lithium-ion batteries.
Another startup Ziptrax, founded in 2016, recycles used battery for critical battery material like lithium, cobalt and nickel. The company refabricates the battery packs for second life applications as stationary storage.
(Edited by : Shoma Bhattacharjee)
First Published: IST