The Environmental Issues of Electric Car Batteries


As more and more electric cars are bought by environmentally conscious individuals, the next issue that concerns environmentalists is the proper disposal and management of the electric car batteries.

There are two major schools of thought regarding the management of used batteries of the electric vehicle revolution. The first school of thought is to recycle the batteries. The second school of thought is to repurpose the batteries.

In recycling, urban mining is conducted. This is a new term called for the extraction of valuable metals from discarded electronics especially batteries. There is even a move now to invest in creating an infrastructure to extract precious metals from depleted battery packs of the first generation of electric cars. To many, the environmental purpose would be defeated if the depleted batteries would not be recycled. Furthermore, there is a whole host of penalties and fines as well as legal action should these batteries end up in landfills. With stricter laws in effect today, battery pack management is legally enforceable against the carmaker, regardless of the battery manufacturer.

The urgency of recycling has been held back though because of the cost and profit factors. The newer model lithium batteries do not have much valuable precious metals to urban mine, so to speak, compared to earlier battery models. Lithium is quite plentiful as a metal compared to the nickel and cobalt used in batteries of first generation batteries and electric or hybrid vehicles. Overall, recycling lithium costs five times more than to mine lithium in Chile or Bolivia, where the metal abounds.

There are also complications in managing depleted batteries. First, they are much larger compared to current batteries - some weighing in at 550 pounds. In some instances, the battery array is the most expensive part of the electric car and complicated to set-up, rather than the extractable metals from the batteries. Furthermore, even depleted battery packs carry electrical energy and when mishandled, can cause fire or shock to individuals.

With this as the landscape, the carmakers have taken different paths to manage the problem and propose creative solutions. Even governments have taken the initiative to provide infrastructure for the proper waste management of depleted lithium ion batteries. Even the old lead based batteries are part of the mix, as they provide an environmental risk because of the lead acid content. As for us, the electric car consumer, we all would wait and see on how things unravel in the near future.

The Guide to Electric Vehicles and Hybrids

Pay Per Mile Taxation
Pay Per Mile Taxation

With the greater push of governments and corporations in going green, one of the markets that is making great strides is the electric vehicle production and use. Many of the big automakers are now creating their own electric vehicle lines in anticipation of the increasing demand from environmentally conscious car buyers.

The very first electric car owners have been called “first adopters” often purchasing their electric car for the prestige and respect the green car provides. As many states are now creating programs designed to promote environmental awareness and action, common folk need to be apprised of the fine print regarding electric car ownership.

  • Safety. Because the design of tires determine the grip and this grip and friction would require greater power to move the vehicle. For the sake of extending the battery life of an electric car, many automakers have designed tires with lesser gripping power on the road. This helps in increasing the efficiency of the vehicle with regards to range but poses a safety issue as the car has lesser grip on the road when traveling.
  • Cost. Most hybrid models currently in the market cost between $15,000 and $20,000 more than an internal combustion vehicle of the same size. Purely electric vehicles cost even more compared to fuel fossil powered cars. This cost is also translated to the available space to the driver and passengers. In hybrids and pure EVs, the space is conserved for the purpose of efficiency and range for the heavier the vehicle, the more power is needed to operate it, thus limiting the range and mobility of the car.
  • Resale. Because of the cost of EVs and hybrids, recovering their value for the purchase cost takes longer. In conventional cars, the owner can recoup their investment in terms of use plus resale value within five years. EVs on the other hand, the owner needs between seven and ten years for the owner to recoup their investment. Owing to the relative newness of the EV, there is little or no resale market to speak of, because of the problems with battery efficiency over time.
  • Viability. As previously stated, it would take so much more to replace conventional cars because of the weight to power ration fossil fuel driven vehicles provide as against EVs and hybrids. An internal combustion engine can provide much more power to the weight of the engine and fuel compared to the electric vehicle as battery packs create more weight that needs to be carried by the power generated by the electric motor or hybrid powertrain. Charging time also is a drawback as conventional cars would require minutes to get going again at full capacity unlike EVs and hybrids that require quite a number of hours to recharge.
  • Environmental Impact. Will the use of EVs lessen the volume of pollutants dumped into the environment? The quandary is while there would be lesser pollution from cars, the greater volume of the pollution would be produced by the electric generation plants that still rely heavily on fossil fuels for operation. There have been studies done which criticize the environmental improvement theory, as electric vehicles, from its manufacture and use, would consume more energy compared to conventional vehicles.

These are but some of the criticisms on electric car manufacture. While the electric car market is still in its infancy, the above factors may need to be reviewed in order that these EVs can eventually replace conventional vehicles on the road to the future.