With the surge in demand for electric vehicles, the need for EV batteries and battery metals such as cobalt and lithium has risen dramatically. However, can the US (along with other nations) keep up with this rising battery metal demand while maintaining recycling efficiency? It’s a good question, but it doesn’t have a simple answer.
Battery Metals Pose a Serious Health Hazard if Not Handled Properly
Lithium-ion batteries are used in most electric vehicles. As the name implies, these are derived from metals like lithium and cobalt. According to the EPA, lithium-ion batteries are a severe fire hazard if not recycled properly. Prolonged exposure to metals like cobalt, on the other hand, can also cause harm to the human body over time.
When lithium-ion batteries are not appropriately recycled, they end up in places like landfills. Here, the chances that they’ll be crushed or damaged increases. In turn, this makes it more and more likely that the batteries will end up leaking into the ground or making their way into an area’s water supply.
This poses a risk with very real consequences. As demand for EV vehicles and the batteries that power them go up, it’s crucial that we don’t overlook proper battery recycling standards. Unfortunately, according to a recent article, the US recycling efforts are unlikely to be able to keep up with the oncoming influx of EV batteries being disposed of.
Currently, no federal recycling mandate in the US for lithium-ion batteries. This leaves the “back door” wide open for various companies to start embracing unsafe disposal methods to meet increasing needs.
Europe is Setting Regulations for End-of-Life EV Battery Metals
In the EU, lawmakers are considering implementing a number of regulations related to EV battery disposal. These rules would require that 70% of every single EV battery be recycled. They would also mandate that all metals within the battery be recovered upon disposal. So far, both manufacturers and recycling firms are on board with the regulations, which will likely pass by the end of the year.
Along with the US, Europe has recently experienced a significant push for electric vehicles. This led to surging demand for cobalt and lithium all across the EU. In fact, experts predict that lithium demand will hit a staggering three to four million metric tons by 2030. While other countries are slower, they can expect similar jumps in battery metal demand.
Responsibilities of EV Battery Manufacturers
By 2040, EV vehicles are expected to make up 70% of all vehicles in Europe. However, there remains no standardized method for recycling EV batteries. On top of this, recycling EV batteries has proven a tricky process.
One proposed method, for instance, would melt lithium-ion batteries in furnaces at high temperatures. Unfortunately, this process could result in noxious gases being created. Another technique would remove each component of the batteries and separate them accordingly. However, the method has yet to catch on due to the time involved.
Fortunately, more possible solutions are coming to light. For instance, recycled lithium-ion battery materials could be repurposed to aid in energy storage. If proven successful, old batteries could end up being part of a larger global shift towards self-sufficient homes.
Part of the issue with the complications and limitations behind lithium-ion recycling comes from the structure of the battery itself. Lithium-ion batteries are fairly complex in material and structure. For this reason, recycling consists of several different separation processes, all of which remain quite tedious.
All things considered, demand for EV batteries will likely outrun the methods most countries currently have in place to dispose of them safely. And while some believe that the responsibility of safely recycling these batteries should go to the battery manufacturer itself, this thinking is far from widespread adoption.
By AG Metal Miner
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