By 2025, around 11 million tons of lithium-ion batteries will flood the markets without recycling or reusing plans to handle them. Meanwhile, existing lead-acid batteries pose a potential threat to human health and the environment if improperly discarded due to the sulfuric acid and lead. Batteries waste resources during their creation due to mining, lose energy during storage, and cause massive environmental damages if disposed improperly.
We will share further on the environmental impact of batteries during their lifecycle from creation, usage and disposal. We have listed some of the sources at the end if you wish to read more too.
Batteries environmental impact during creation
Is making lithium batteries bad for the environment? Batteries themselves have environmental drawbacks, too. They contain toxic and in some cases flammable materials. And they require lots of energy to manufacture, which means high greenhouse gas emissions.
In a Bloomberg report, early studies of lithium-ion EV battery production are far from encouraging:
- Researchers are finding that battery production for electric cars ultimately produces more carbon dioxide -- up to 74 percent more -- than an efficient conventional car if those batteries are produced in a factory powered by fossil fuels.
- As battery production scales up, so will emissions from factories producing the batteries in the first place, factories that themselves are relying on less-than-clean energy to churn out the batteries.
- "It will come down to where is the battery made, how is it made and even where do we get our electric power from," Henrik Fisker, CEO of Fisker Inc., told Bloomberg.
Besides that, the mining of metals used to produce batteries consume lots of natural resources.
- According to consultancy Cairn Energy Research Advisors, the lithium-ion industry is expected to grow from 100-GigaWatt hours (GWh) of annual production in 2017, to almost 800-GWh in 2027.
- The price of cobalt rose by more than 80% over the past 12 months, and cobalt demand is estimated to double by 2020, to 200,000 tons per year. (weforum.org)
- In Chile's Salar de Atacama, mining activities consumed 65 percent of the region's water. (wired.co.uk)
Why Batteries Are Bad During Usage
Furthermore, batteries lose and waste stored energy over their lifetime when they are not used.
- Standard lead-acid batteries waste 20 to 30 percent of their energy over a lifetime,
- Lithium-ion batteries have energy loss closer to 10 percent. (ensia.com)
The carbon footprint of batteries in Electric Vehicles
Can batteries be made better for the environment? In terms of lithium batteries, the growth is largely due to the rise of electric vehicles (EV). Compared to gasoline vehicles, electric vehicles are better for the environment in terms of carbon emission.
- Germany, which has pledged to reduce carbon emissions by 40 percent by 2020 compared to 1994 levels, aims to have 1 million electric cars on road by then. (dw.com)
- An EV powered by average European electricity production is likely to reduce a vehicle's global warming potential by about 20% over its life cycle. (weforum.org)
Electric Vehicles are definitely greener than fossil fuel-powered cars.
Even though EVs are good for carbon emission, they have led to a drop in the usage of public transport which would still be the best form of transport in reducing overall carbon emissions (besides reducing land use for parking and bigger and wider roads).
- However, as the sales of electric cars have gone up, the use of public transport to get to work dropped by 80 percent, according to the UPI. (dw.com)
Lack of Batteries Recycling
Both lead-acid batteries and lithium-ion batteries create huge environmental problems as usage continues to grow without proper disposal or recycling plans.
- Research in Australia found that only 2% percent of the country's 3,300 tonnes of lithium-ion waste was recycled. (wired.co.uk)
- About 90 percent of lead-acid batteries are now recycled. (sciencing.com)
Both lead and sulfuric acid can contaminate solid and groundwater if improperly disposed of.
What Do Batteries Do to the Environment If Not Properly Recycled?
Improperly disposed batteries contribute to water and air pollution. When depleted batteries are tossed into the trash, they end up in landfills where they decay and leak. As batteries corrode, their chemicals soak into the soil and contaminate groundwater and surface water.
This brief scanned the following sources (title, domain, description):
- The spiraling environmental cost of our lithium battery addiction (wired.co.uk) - As the world scrambles to replace fossil fuels with clean energy, the environmental impact of finding all the lithium required could become a major issue in its own right.
- Is the lithium-ion battery having a positive impact on the environment? (nsenergybusiness.com) - There are several questions surrounding whether the Noble Prize-winning lithium-ion battery is having a positive environmental impact.
- How eco-friendly are electric cars? (dw.com) - Dieselgate has many people turning to electric vehicles as a more environmentally friendly option. But in some respects, e-cars can be just as bad for the environment as traditional cars.
- Are Electric Cars Greener? What About Their Batteries? (youmatter.world) - Electric cars greener and eco-friendly. Are they a good solution to fight climate change? Are electric cars zero-emission vehicles?
- Nickel mining: the hidden environmental cost of electric cars (theguardian.com) - The extraction of nickel, mainly mined in Australia, Canada, Indonesia, Russia, and the Philippines, comes with environmental and health costs
- Are batteries bad for the environment? (nbcnews.com) - The wireless world we live in runs on batteries. That smartphone is nothing more than a few ounces of dead weight in your pocket without a charged battery. That iPod can’t utter a sound when its battery drains the last drop. Even laptop power cords feel like restrictive leashes, holding us back from joining the mobile mayhem.
- Tesla and the environmental impact of lithium-ion batteries (digital.hbs.edu) - Tesla is one of the most important companies addressing climate change with their core products -- their fleet of cars and their suite of clean energy technologies. The environmental impact of the massive boom in lithium-ion battery production should be examined and mitigated.
- Producing batteries for green technology harms the environment (weforum.org) - For batteries to help rather than hinder our climate goals, these five barriers must be addressed.
- How do batteries affect the environment? (weforum.org) - The World Economic Forum is an independent international organization committed to improving the state of the world by engaging business, political, academic, and other leaders of society to shape global, regional, and industry agendas. Incorporated as a not-for-profit foundation in 1971, and headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, the Forum is tied to no political, partisan, or national interests.
- Batteries and Their Effects on the Environment - EcoFriendlyLink (ecofriendlylink.com) - Do you know the effects that batteries are having on YOU as well as the environment? Find out here - and see what you can do to avoid the problems.
- Don't be fooled by attacks on the lithium battery (nationalobserver.com) - There's an image circulating the Internet comparing the environmental damage of a lithium battery to the oilsands. Pay them no mind, writes David Suzuki.
- Can we make batteries better for the environment? (ensia.com) - Ensia is a solutions-focused nonprofit media outlet reporting on our changing planet. Published by the Institute on the Environment.
- Electric car batteries damaging to environment: Amnesty International (euronews.com) - Extracting the minerals for the lithium-ion batteries powering electric vehicles and electronics is fossil-fuel intensive, the NGO warned on Thursday.
- Batteries and the Environment - ScienceDirect (sciencedirect.com) - This chapter discusses the batteries and the environment. The battery materials of foremost environmental concern at present are mercury, lead.
- Environmental Problems That Batteries Cause (sciencing.com) - The increasing global demand for batteries is largely due to the rapid increase in portable power-consuming products such as cellular phones and video cameras, toys, and laptop computers. Each year consumers dispose of billions of batteries, all containing toxic or corrosive materials.