In France, only 1.42% of car sales are electric vehicles, far behind Scandinavian countries like Norway, where electric vehicles represent 15% of all new car sales.
Car manufacturers often present the argument regarding the reduced ecological impact of using electricity to power cars, but is driving an electric vehicle really that ecological? It also raises the question of what should we do with batteries at the end of life of the vehicle?
As with any new technology, there are a few limitations about utilising hybridisation and electrification. Firstly, the components used, like batteries, raise questions of the carbon assessment and rating, because these components have a CO2 cost and also require a large amount of energy during their production and recycling. So the question remains, what should we do to recycle the batteries?
I – How do we recycle them?
Two methods currently exists to recycle lithium batteries;
Technique used in the hydrometal industry:
Ferrous metals are magnetically separated from the non-ferrous metals, which is expected to be seen in the steelwork industry. Other industries are using a chemical treatment via an acidic solution which will allow engineers to distinguish the various elements which can be used in the metal industry.
Technique using pyrometallurgy:
The waste lithium is placed into an oven, which separates metals through condensation. Three products then remain:
- The slag, which will be of used for the construction of roads and for the manufacturing of rock wools.
- Ferrous metals, which we’ll find in luxury cutlery and in brake discs for high speed trains.
- Residue of non-ferrous, which are going to be refined.
What if we don’t recycle batteries?
Considering the fact more and more hybrid vehicles are being developed and produced, and if the electric vehicle recycling industry is not ready, not all of the batteries will be recycled. Without recycling these Lithium batteries, there is a risk than abandoned batteries will catch fire, creating some vast amounts of toxic smoke, which is likely to contain fluorinate of hydrogen. Indeed, lithium is a metal which attacks organic tissues. It reacts with the oxygen, nitrogen and the vapor of water molecules in the air, to form a substance which is particularly corrosive.
The expansion of electric or hybrid vehicles must be accompanied through the development of the recycling sector for batteries.
Alexandre, Consultant, Leyton France
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