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The burgeoning electric vehicle industry already provides some relief to conservationists concerned about global warming, but dealing with their end-of-life batteries presents significant challenges. Processes for recycling spent lithium-ion batteries are being refined to extract their valuable raw components, or make them available for second use in power grids. To maximize this technology, the authors of this detailed article suggest that manufacturers must design more efficient, standardized batteries that are simpler and less hazardous to produce, re-use and recycle.  

Summary

Conservationists and scientists must focus on reducing waste in the process of recycling lithium-ion batteries (LIBs).

Electric vehicle sales exceeded one million in 2017 for the first time. The market for them continues to grow, in part because they may help slow global warming and air pollution. Recycling challenges include safely storing used batteries, testing and dismantling them, and chemically separating their materials.

Emergent markets for re-purposed battery storage include electrical grids, especially those dependent upon renewable energy sources. But storing used lithium-ion batteries at recovery plants presents significant risks such as fires, often caused by the mixing of LIBs with standard lead-acid batteries in the consumer waste stream.

Sustaining electric vehicle production requires the international coordination of recycling programs.

Raw earth minerals used to construct LIBs are in limited supply. For example, cobalt is mined mainly in the politically unstable Democratic Republic of the Congo, resulting in price uncertainties and concerns about child labor. Mining and...

About the Authors

Gavin Harper is a Faraday Institution Research Fellow at the University of Birmingham and responsible for the development of the Birmingham Energy Institute. Paul Anderson is a reader in inorganic and materials chemistry and leader of the Materials Chemistry Research Theme in the School of Chemistry at the University of Birmingham.


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