Electric cars promise to bring about an age of clean motoring. But a new study suggests that, without huge improvements to recycling, their batteries may cause a waste crisis…
Facing A Waste Crisis
A new study has suggested that the rise of electric cars could produce a waste crisis. This is due to their batteries and the inadequacy of current recycling technologies and infrastructure. Researchers from the universities of Newcastle, Leicester and Birmingham have petitioned the government to develop recycling facilities to meet future demand. This, they claim, is something the country is “relatively under-prepared” for. Electric car-ownership remains niche in the UK, but uptake is growing. It increased by 76.6% in 2018 when compared to the previous year. As it stands, there are now 195,000 electric vehicles registered in the country.
Based on the 1 million EVs that were sold in 2017 globally, the researchers discovered that 250,000 tonnes of unprocessed waste will be generated by the vehicles by the end of their life-cycles. The batteries themselves can last anywhere between 10 to 20 years; dependent upon the model, how much charge they usually receive and how often they’re used. Removing and recycling them is, at this stage, a dangerous, costly and time-consuming process. They contain hazardous chemicals that can pose a danger to factory operatives. In Europe, only around 5% of them are currently recycled.
A Recycling Revolution
The study suggests that EV batteries need to be manufactured with easy disassembly and recycling in mind; making the process simpler and safer. It also wants new processes to be developed so that individual parts and components aren’t contaminated during the process. This is even more important given that the he Faraday Institution, an institute for electrochemical energy storage research, has claimed that the country needs 8 gigafactories to meet demand by 2040.
Professor Andrew Abbott, from the University of Leicester and co-author of the report, wrote “electrification of just 2 per cent of the current global car fleet would represent a line of cars that could stretch around the circumference of the Earth – some 140 million vehicles”. He continued, “landfill is clearly not an option for this amount of waste. Finding ways to recycle EV batteries will not only avoid a huge burden on landfill, it will also help us secure the supply of critical materials, such as cobalt and lithium, that surely hold the key to a sustainable automotive industry.”
The Plot Thickens
Electric cars are indisputably cleaner and less-polluting than petrol and diesel equivalents. No one can dispute this. But how clean or ‘green’ they are, in of themselves, seems to becoming less clear. They depend upon exceptionally rare-earth minerals as a part of their manufacturing process; many of these are extracted by extremely poor and exploited workers in the Congo. Their tyres and braking systems also produce emissions, like any other conventional car. Indeed, a study produced in 2011 went as far to claim that there’s simply no such thing as an ‘environmentally-friendly’ car. In the likes of Japan, China and Korea, a different approach is also being taken to the West. Hydrogen is receiving just as much attention as a possible powertrain.
As it stands, electric vehicles are hailed as a magic bullet to the climate crisis. But the terms and conditions seem to be getting longer and longer; with more and more changes and overhauls being required to best exploit their capabilities. The fact of the matter is, their advocates are always going to come across critics who say more electric cars simply isn’t the answer. Instead, they argue, that the answer lies with moving further and further away from them and car-ownership. How the industry, and EV advocates, react to this line of questioning may prove to be critical.
We’ll Refer To Electric Cars As Just ‘Cars’ By 2030 – https://autoserve.co.uk/motoring-news/electric-cars-just-cars-2030/
Range Figures For Electric Cars Need An ‘Urgent Rethink’ – https://www.autoservefleet.co.uk/latest-news/range-figures-for-electric-cars-need-an-urgent-rethink/