By BN Frank
Electric Vehicles (EVs) have been confronted with the threat of already vulnerable power grids (see 1, 2), fires (see 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8th, 9) and high cost (see 1, 2, 3) as well as Health and environmental issues (see 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6). Despite all of this, many U.S. lawmakers and government agencies continue to support it and finance the rapid roll-out of electric cars and trucks and the rapid deployment of charging infrastructure (see 1, 2). In fact, EV mandates are currently being considered and/or implemented in at least 17 states. That surprises some again how Americans will safely deal with millions of harder and more expensive to recycle end-of-life EV batteries.
From The Epoch Times:
Millions of electric car batteries will be retired by 2030, are we ready to deal with the ticking time bombs?
By Herbst Spredemann
The evolving landscape of lithium batteries creates both contradictions and infrastructure hurdles that some say need to be addressed sooner rather than later. A key part of this is waste management.
More than 6 million electric vehicle (EV) battery packs will end up as scrap by 2030, and the recycling and reuse industries are struggling to keep up. Some researchers project that recycling alone will be a $12 billion+ industry by 2025.
US President Joe Biden wants to make America a key player in the battery industry for electric vehicles with a US$3.1 billion spending package to convert car production to fossil fuels.
Much of that dream is pinned to a dusty piece of earth in the high Nevada desert called Thacker Pass. It serves as a linchpin in Biden’s push for increased domestic lithium production and more EV batteries. That’s because Thacker Pass is the largest hard-rock lithium reserve in the United States.
Currently, China dominates global EV battery production with more than 80 percent of all units developed there.
But while Biden’s administration has its sights set on the top spot for electric vehicle battery production, insiders point to the industry’s trapdoors.
Due to the potentially hazardous chemistry of lithium-ion EV units, concrete solutions are needed before an avalanche of empty battery packs sits waiting like ticking time bombs for recycling.
Those working on the sales side of the EV revolution tend to squirm or make vague generalizations when asked what’s going to happen with all those old batteries.
The term is quickly lumped into the very broad category of recycling or second-life applications, with no details on planning offered.
Second-life applications are an option for EV batteries that are no longer suitable for powering cars, but are suitable for alternative applications such as energy storage.
And while that’s a start, the ultimate question remains: How can America effectively deal with millions of dead, defective, or recalled EV units?
Handling lithium batteries is a serious issue for hazardous waste specialists.
“For me, the biggest challenge I see, especially with Second Life, is on the security side,” Veolia North America’s Scott Thibodeau told The Epoch Times.
Thibodeau is General Manager of Environmental Services and Solutions for Veolia North America, the second largest hazardous materials disposal service in the United States.
He explained that the chemistry of lithium-ion batteries is problematic because they cannot be disposed of or recycled as easily as some other materials. This requires special adaptations within the developing EV industry to responsibly disassemble, pack and dispose of old units.
A “thermal runaway”
“The packaging and logistics are neither easy nor cheap,” said Thibodeau.
In addition, the batteries pose a significant fire hazard.
Tucked away in the sprawling Chicago suburbs lies the city of Morris, Illinois. Around noon on June 29, 2021, the fire department received a call that a bonfire had broken out in what many local residents assumed was just an abandoned building. The call came from someone claiming to be an employee of a company that stored 200,000 pounds of batteries in the building, most of which were lithium.
Fire Chief Tracey Steffes told reporters it was the first time his department had ever fought a lithium fire.
Traditional fires are mitigated by using water or chemicals to cut off the flow of oxygen. However, lithium is unique in that it does not require oxygen to burn. Once ignited, it creates what Thibodeau called a “thermal runaway” that is incredibly difficult to control.
“Once the battery goes into this state, it’s almost impossible to stop it,” Steffes told reporters after the June 2021 fire.
Bewildered Morris residents were quickly evacuated from neighborhoods near the fire and spent hours in hotel rooms, watching smoke fill the sky and fearing for the safety of their homes.
In that moment, local Americans got an up close and personal look at the dark side of lithium.
It wasn’t the first instance where lithium battery storage became catastrophic, and it likely won’t be the last.
Thibodeau says that while there’s no easy way to put out a lithium battery fire, if people are properly trained on how to reduce the risk of fire, combined with proper handling, it’s a big step in the right direction and storage.
EV battery recycling presents another significant hurdle. That’s due to a trifecta of complications including cost, existing capacity to meet demand, and the simple fact that these batteries aren’t easily recycled.
“Currently, less than 5 percent of lithium batteries that reach end of life are recycled,” a spokesman for Carbon Accounting Group Greenly told The Epoch Times.
The Greenly representative went on to explain that while the potential for increased recycling is there, this is not possible with lithium-ion batteries until they reach end-of-life.
“The industry has not accumulated the knowledge or experience to learn how to recycle these batteries or maximize their use in advance,” they added.
This is where second-life applications come in, which can add an extra 10 years of life to a non-defective EV battery. It also essentially buys up-and-coming recyclers time to catch up.
An electric car being charged at a station. (Photo/Shutterstock)
However, some experts say the demand for recycling could exceed the supply capacity.
“Even in 2025, the majority of recycling will come from production waste. Electric vehicles will not be used until 2030 [will] Overtaking production scrap as the majority of recycled battery metals,” Oliver Gunasekara, co-founder and CEO of Impossible Mining, told The Epoch Times.
Gunaseka’s company offers seabed mining as an alternative to traditional mineral extraction methods. He says lithium mining will continue until 2050, or until there are enough scrap batteries to harvest to fuel rising industry demand.
That means new minerals to make more EV batteries while the old ones eventually burn out – and pile up somewhere – until possibly 2050.
“New mining needs to increase five-fold to enable the transition from hustle fuels to clean energy. Only seabed battery metals can provide this material without the massive ESG [environmental, social, and governance] Impact,” Gunaseka said.
And Thibodeau says there are still high operating costs to consider.
It can cost as much as $300 per tonne of “bulk black paste” entering a recycling facility. Even after removing profitable metals, there are operating costs, safety regulations, equipment and employee salaries to be managed.
Biden’s EV battery production package includes just $60 million for second-life applications.
However, there is no clear spending framework for the recycling industry at all.
“The second biggest challenge is managing and mitigating the cost of recycling and reuse,” Thibodeau said, adding, “The industry needs take-back laws, landfill bans and rationalization to get it from point A to point B.”
Autumn is a South America-based reporter who primarily covers Latin American issues for The Epoch Times.
Activist Post regularly reports on electric vehicles and unsafe technologies. For more information, see our archives and the following websites:
Image above: Pixabay
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