By wk1003mike @

Despite being touted as a clean energy alternative to gasoline or diesel powered vehicles, Jurica Dujmovic describes electric vehicles as “poised to be one of the biggest new sources of pollution.” He writes in MarketWatch:

The International Energy Agency (IEA) said this year it’s expecting 145 million electric vehicles (EVs) worldwide by 2030. If governments ramp up efforts to meet international energy and climate goals, the number could soar even higher — up to 230 million — and that’s not counting two- and three-wheel vehicles.

That’s a lot of new cars to hit global markets. Also … a lot of batteries.

Although EVs do not release carbon dioxide during their use, their production (and that of batteries) exerts the same toll on the environment as that of conventional cars, while the recycling of lithium-ion batteries poses unique challenges.

Lithium-ion batteries are bulkier and take more space than their traditional counterpart, lead-acid batteries. To make matters worse, they’re highly flammable and even explosive if dismantled incorrectly.

In the next 10 to 15 years, there will be millions of end-of-life electric cars worldwide; by that time, recycling plants need to be ready not only to take in all those batteries, reclaim valuable parts and metals, but also to properly dispose of the waste. Sadly, not much is being done on that front: Currently, only 5% of all Li-ion batteries are being recycled.

If no action is taken, battery waste could become a big problem not only for the car industry, but also for the environment.

How big? If an average car battery pack weighs 550 pounds, 100 million cars would produce about 55 billion pounds — 28 million tons — of battery waste that needs recycling. And we can expect a big portion of that waste to accumulate by 2040 if the IEAs’ projections are even partially correct.

Water pollution

Although Li-ion batteries are classified by the federal government as non-hazardous waste and are safe for disposal in the normal municipal waste stream, several studies have shown they can contaminate the water. Nowadays, a lot of recycling is “informal” — it often occurs in less developed, rural areas and without proper supervision or protective measures in place.

With these kind of operations, there’s a high probability of lithium seeping into the water supply. A similar situation occurs in highly developed areas where people improperly dispose of consumer electronics, which are more often than not powered by Li-ion batteries. Finally, it’s not just lithium that can contaminate soil and groundwater. Nickel, cobalt, manganese and other metals found in EV batteries pose an even greater threat than lithium to both human life and the ecosystem.

The majority of material in EV car batteries can be recycled and reused, which in itself is an economic argument for extraction; extracting materials, especially metals, cobalt and nickel, from the old battery housing in order to be reused in a new batch is a procedure that can significantly reduce manufacturing costs. This is due to the fact that almost 50% of a battery’s cost comes from those metals alone.

Read more here.