The rise of electric vehicles is an exciting prospect. Experts say it’s the cornerstone of a green recovery and it means a decrease in air pollution and harmful emissions.
However, electric vehicles could create 11 million tonnes of lithium-ion battery waste between now and 2030.
Car batteries have a lot of glued components, so if one part fails the whole battery is thrown away (even if it has a lot of life left). Non-glued components allow replacement of parts which would extend the lifespan of these batteries considerably.
Batteries are also dependent on raw materials. Pedro Palandrani, research analyst at Global X in New York said there could be a shortage of lithium as soon as 2025. With technology improvements happening all the time, lithium could be replaced with more innovative materials, meaning that some companies are skeptical of long term investment.
There has been some interesting research on graphene batteries. Graphene is a lot lighter, more durable and has a higher energy storage capacity than lithium. The biggest advantages are that graphene batteries charge quicker and have a longer battery life. GAC Group has announced that they will start production of graphene powered cars by September 2021.
Extending the life of a battery is essential to lower carbon emissions and reduce waste. Repurposing is better than recycling. If batteries can be repurposed (as stationary energy storage, for example) they’d maintain their economic value and reduce the costs for customers in the long term.
Rental models might be another interesting solution. Consumers would rent their batteries and then a rental company would be responsible for repurposing or recycling them.
Cross-collaboration between industries is key to reducing waste. It’s important for consumers, businesses and policymakers to ask questions about the ownership of batteries as well as what to do with them once they’ve stopped being useful. Doing this before the design process begins means that waste can be avoided rather than becoming an inevitable byproduct.
The Circular Economy looks beyond our current take-make-waste model to see how we can innovate to design out waste, regenerate natural systems and keep materials in use. What do you think about circular economy innovations?