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Millions Of Electric Cars Are Coming. What Happens To All The Dead Batteries?

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Is anyone else concerned that the world’s urgent rush for batteries at scale to make renewable energy more reliable and to power electric cars will lead to human and environmental tolls that are yet not scientifically studied, or maybe conveniently not being studied?

Material mining, extraction control from certain countries, unstable fire threat, (scratch one cargo ship), hazardous waste streams, no dedicated disposal plan, no recycle plan, life cycle carbon footprint, etc.

Does anyone know of an objective study, or are we all celebrating electric cars without any understanding of what the fallout will be?

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  1. David Cope

    Hi! Great question.
    I don’t know specific studies, but I’ve been following the concept for a while. It will have been studied to death as a full-cycle concept by a few engineering firms. Whether, in all the excitement, we actually do it properly, will be up to oversight by citizen groups.

    At least in principle, the lifespan of the average car battery will be 10years. This is the point where the battery reaches a capacity degradation to 80% (of original capacity), where it’s going to be either replaced, or in a lot of cases, the whole car scrapped. This will depend on whether we follow a business as usual approach, or start to create modular cars that can be refurbished for decades. The electric concept lends itself to this, so small startups will show up in the next few years to shake up the whole system.

    Lithium car batteries at this stage (in properly designed charging systems – completely unlike the rubbish over-charging that happens in mobile phones) will still be good for another 10years if you don’t care about the weight. They will become increasingly valuable at this stage as home storage batteries.

    After that, the lithium, and small levels of other prized metals is highly recyclable, and unlike lead batteries, should have minimal toxic leaching. There will be issues, of course, but nothing decent legislation shouldn’t be following up along the way.

    We shouldn’t drop the ball on keeping toxic mining and processing practices under scrutiny, but the whole system is capable of being ‘closed’ if we choose to.

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