Designing batteries for easier recycling could avert a looming e-waste crisis

Posted: October 23, 2020 by oldbrew in Batteries, Energy
Tags: ,

Risky business [image credit: safetysource.co.nz]


It’s the climate propaganda that’s mounting, not the concern about it, judging by opinion polls that put climate change last as an issue. But recycling of lithium batteries is considered to be uneconomic and can be dangerous.
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As concern mounts over the impacts of climate change, many experts are calling for greater use of electricity as a substitute for fossil fuels, asserts The Conversation (via TechXplore).

Powered by advancements in battery technology, the number of plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles on U.S. roads is increasing.

And utilities are generating a growing share of their power from renewable fuels, supported by large-scale battery storage systems.

These trends, coupled with a growing volume of battery-powered phones, watches, laptops, wearable devices and other consumer technologies, leave us wondering: What will happen to all these batteries once they wear out?

Despite overwhelming enthusiasm for cheaper, more powerful and energy-dense batteries, manufacturers have paid comparatively little attention to making these essential devices more sustainable. In the U.S. only about 5% of lithium-ion batteries—the technology of choice for electric vehicles and many high-tech products – are actually recycled.

As sales of electric vehicles and tech gadgets continue to grow, it is unclear who should handle hazardous battery waste or how to do it.

As engineers who work on designing advanced materials, including batteries, we believe it is important to think about these issues now.

Creating pathways for battery manufacturers to build sustainable production-to-recycling manufacturing processes that meet both consumer and environmental standards can reduce the likelihood of a battery waste crisis in the coming decade.

Hazardous contents

Batteries pose more complex recycling and disposal challenges than metals, plastics and paper products because they contain many chemical components that are both toxic and difficult to separate.

Some types of widely used batteries—notably, lead-acid batteries in gasoline-powered cars—have relatively simple chemistries and designs that make them straightforward to recycle.

The common non-rechargeable alkaline or water-based batteries that power devices like flashlights and smoke alarms can be disposed directly in landfills.

However, today’s lithium-ion batteries are highly sophisticated and not designed for recyclability. They contain hazardous chemicals, such as toxic lithium salts and transition metals, that can damage the environment and leach into water sources.

Used lithium batteries also contain embedded electrochemical energy—a small amount of charge left over after they can no longer power devices—which can cause fires or explosions, or harm people that handle them.

Full article here.

Comments
  1. Gamecock says:

    ‘Powered by government pressure and subsidies, the number of plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles on U.S. roads is increasing.’

    Fixed it.

  2. spetzer86 says:

    Just wait until the ICE ban hits. All vehicles powered by Li batteries, with tons more battery waste.

  3. oldbrew says:

    today’s lithium-ion batteries are highly sophisticated and not designed for recyclability

    Good for combustibility though ⚡ 💥

    it is unclear who should handle hazardous battery waste

    If the waste is hazardous, the battery is hazardous 😫

  4. Hasbeen says:

    If the waste is hazardous, the battery is hazardous.

    Of course they are. That is why they are no longer allowed to be carried as cargo on passenger flights.

    It now costs more in freight costs to ship a battery to Oz from China than it costs to buy the battery.

  5. Gamecock says:

    ‘As concern mounts over the impacts of climate change’

    [citation needed]

    Everything Gamecock sees says concern is FADING.

    ‘many experts are calling for greater use of electricity as a substitute for fossil fuels’

    EXPERTS who don’t know that electricity is delivery method, not a source of energy.

    ‘Designing batteries for easier recycling could avert a looming e-waste crisis’

    Uhhh . . . whats an ‘e-waste?’

  6. ivan says:

    There is a simple answer to this – stop using lithium-ion batteries in cars. That doesn’t mean no more electric cars, it just means replace the battery with something more practical.

    Many years ago A guy designed an electric driven dump truck, the wheels had individual electric motors built in which gave more power where ‘the rubber met the ground’ – ideal for moving loads of rock out of open cast mining operations to where it was needed. The power for those motors came from an alternator driven by a constant speed diesel engine. See https://www.komatsuamerica.com/equipment/trucks/electric/830e-1ac for the modern equivalent.

    If that idea was to be applied to cars today (it is to a certain extent with pure hybrid cars without batteries) it would keep the driving range, reduce the weight and hence production of particulate matter, reduce CO2 emissions and above all no problem with ‘e-waste’.

  7. E.M.Smith says:

    “The poison is in the dose.”

    Nothing in a lithium battery is particularly toxic.

    Old homes near Lithua Park Oregon, have three faucets. The third to deliver Lithia Water with lithium in it (used to treat depression). I’ve drunk Lithia Water in the park.

    The major component of one electrode is carbon. Much like starch has lots of carbon, or the activated carbon used to treat poisoning.

    Minor amounts of Iron or Cobalt can be added for performance. In trace amounts, these are essential nutrient minerals. As with other stuff in the batteries.

    The reality is that it is just vastly cheaper to make batteries using new materials from mines.

    You can easily make an innert gas flooded hammer mill where batteries would be rapidly converted to “kibble”. Yes, residual electricity would cause some sparks and heat, but no fire as the carbon, oils, and metals would have no oxygen to burn. The steel mill will not care about the electricity.

    Then neutralize the kibble chemically (I’d likely use an acid bath. HCl or sulphuric). Now you have a separation problem. Metal salts from carbon compounds. Not too hard.

    BUT, not as cheap as using fresh mined ore.

    There is no technical problem with battery recycle, just a cost one. (Storing them in transit to the mill IS a problem… “Flaming Dump Trucks Batman!” 🙂

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