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The increasing demand for electric vehicles (EVs) has created an expanding market for battery technology. However, sustainable battery materials have emerged as an essential concern in the industry due to associated environmental and ethical concerns. The mining of raw battery materials, like cobalt, nickel, and lithium, has environmental and ethical ramifications. Additionally, inefficient and costly recycling techniques contribute to environmental degradation caused by the production and disposal of batteries. The source of electricity used to power batteries is also problematic, especially in developing countries that rely on thermal sources.
To make battery materials sustainable for EVs, we need to understand the challenges and find solutions. In this article, we will explore the challenges and possible solutions towards making battery materials sustainable for electric vehicles. These include recycling, circular supply chain solutions, and sustainable materials sourcing.
Challenges of Unsustainable Battery Materials
The unsustainability of battery materials stems from various associated factors, including mining and sourcing raw battery materials, the production process, disposal of batteries, and the electricity used to power them.
- The production loop is an example of an unsustainable practice that leads to environmental degradation and supply chain vulnerabilities as it is more reliant on obtaining raw materials.
- Mining is a major contributor to environmental degradation, as it results in carbon emissions, water pollution, and negative social implications due to exploitation of natural resources.
- The sourcing of raw battery materials such as cobalt, nickel, and lithium has massive environmental and ethical ramifications, including human rights abuses, child labor, and hazardous working conditions.
- Disposal of end-of-life batteries is another crucial factor in the environmental impact of batteries. Batteries are difficult to recycle, and only a small percentage of them make their way to recycling centers.
- The source of electricity used to power batteries is also a problem, especially in developing economies. Thermal sources like coal are used to generate energy, leading to high carbon emissions that contribute to global warming, climate change, and other environmental concerns.
In the next sections, we will explore some of the possible solutions towards making battery materials sustainable.
Solutions: Circular Supply Chain and Sustainable Manufacturing
To address the challenges associated with unsustainable battery materials, industry leaders have called for the adoption of circular supply chain methods and sustainable manufacturing practices. This involves using closed-loop lithium-ion recovery and recycling technologies to extend battery life and reduce waste. Several companies have already adopted circular supply chain approaches and methods, such as Redwood Materials, Li-Cycle, Aceleron, Recell Center, and the Global Battery Alliance.
- Companies like BASF have implemented a due diligence management process and promote the use of circular economy principles to reduce the carbon footprint of the value chain for the electromobility industry.
- Saft, a global leader in battery manufacturing, prioritizes suppliers with strong sustainability and human rights records, implements circular economy principles, and complies with environmental regulations.
Sustainable manufacturing practices are also critical for making battery materials sustainable. Such practices involve the use of renewable energy, low carbon hydrogen, and electrolysis. Industry initiatives such as the Global Battery Alliance and the Cobalt Initiative are promoting responsible sourcing and sustainable mining practices. These efforts could lead to job growth, economic development, and the establishment of a long-term sustainable industry.
Sustainable Materials and Nanomaterials for Battery Production
Promising research is revealing that sustainable carbon nanomaterials produced from waste CO2 and other renewable materials could be used to produce sustainable batteries. Several companies, including Italvolt, Northvolt AB, Tesla, Inc., and Custom Cells, could use these sustainable materials in their production processes. The use of nanomaterials like carbon negates the environmental impact of conventional materials like cobalt and graphite.
- The use of such materials facilitates the development of sodium-ion batteries to serve as a sustainable alternative to lithium-ion batteries.
- The use of molten salt electrolysis to produce metal parts for batteries could increase battery life span and recycling ability.
- Research is also ongoing to develop cathode and anode materials made from renewable materials instead of traditional mining materials like cobalt, nickel, and lithium.
Overall, sustainable materials and nanomaterials offer a more sustainable option for making battery materials for EVs.
Sustainability Efforts by Battery Manufacturers and Developing Countries
Battery manufacturers are also taking active steps towards sustainability. For instance, Tesla aims to use lithium-ion batteries that have reusable and recyclable energy storage systems, making them more environmentally friendly. Similarly, Aceleron manufactures batteries with components that can be recycled, remanufactured, or reused.
Developing countries are also investing in sustainable battery technology to power clean mobility. India, for example, aims to generate 500 GW of non-fossil fuel energy by 2030, requiring significant grid storage and an increase in EVs. The country is already implementing practices like low-carbon hydrogen electrolysis to develop more sustainable battery materials and ramp up renewable energy integration.
The growth of the electric vehicle industry is crucial to achieving sustainable global action. To develop sustainable battery materials for EVs, we need to adopt circular supply chain methods and sustainable manufacturing practices. We must also address the conventional practices of mining and sourcing raw battery materials by involving industries, governments, and civil society. With multi-stakeholder initiatives, collaborative efforts, and effective implementation of solutions that balance environmental, economic, and social perspectives, the creation of a more sustainable battery industry for electric vehicles is achievable.