Lithium-ion battery is practically ubiquitous as it can be found from smartphones and notebooks to electric vehicles and battery energy storage system. Will an excess demand in raw materials occur as the usage of the particular product increases?
The global electricity consumption and the automotive industry are both undergoing silent changes under the rise of electric vehicles and renewable energy that has been derived in response to global warming and industrial greening. Both electric vehicles and the energy storage system paired with green energy require “batteries”, and the question of whether there will be enough batteries for the future has been answered by the latest report of Greenpeace East Asia, which points out that the decommissioned lithium-ion batteries of electric vehicles are able to satisfy the global demand for energy storage by 2030 at the earliest.
The existing battery industry is centralized in China, South Korea, and Japan, equaling 85% of battery production in Asia. As pointed out by the report, the severe supply risks in lithium and cobalt will impact the industry chain of battery production and affect the local economy in the future. Hence, the report believes that additional emphases should be placed on “battery recycling” in order to avoid possible supply shortage in the future, where both recycling of critical raw materials from batteries, and the “rebirth” of secondary batteries, are important procedures in a circular supply chain.
It is the same with smartphones, where a battery replacement is required after a period of use, and electric vehicles will usually be left with roughly 80% of battery capacity after 5-8 years of use. The report points out that the discarded batteries of electric vehicles between 2021 and 2030 are estimated to be 12.85 million tons, which equal the weight of 1,285 units of Eiffel Tower, and the demand for lithium during 2030 will be 29.7 times to that of 2018 from the constantly increasing battery demand amidst the specific period. 30% of cobalt will be extracted within merely 10 years, equaling approximately 10.35 million tons of lithium, cobalt, nickel, and manganese.
The report believes that the concern over the sufficiency of batteries for energy storage systems will be eliminated if all discarded batteries of electric vehicle are used in energy storage systems, which are able to satisfy all relevant requirements by 2030, equaling an approximate capacity of 368GWh. From environmental and economic perspectives, a substantial amount of money can be saved from this particular approach, and that a carbon emission of 63.34 million tons can be reduced from the reuse of batteries instead of the production of new batteries between 2021 and 2030.
The specific report has also proposed “recommendations” for China. Ada Kong, Senior Project Manager of Greenpeace East Asia, commented that as pointed out by the national policy of China, electric vehicles are an important sector for the movement of carbon reduction, though the high emission from the manufacturing industry of electric vehicles must also be taken into consideration, and the fact that the disposal of discarded batteries would require billions of US dollars and emit billion of tons of carbon dioxide.
Discarded batteries can also be applied in 5G equipment, data centers, and energy storage systems in the future to prevent high consumption and large degree of waste from impacting the climate change and resource extraction. Kong commented that recycle and reuse is part of the responsibilities in enterprise carbon reduction for manufacturers. In order to transform electric vehicles into a sustainable solution, battery manufacturers and automotive companies must also shoulder the mission of creating a circular economy and social construction, with supports provided by the government.
(Cover photo source: Flickr/massmatt CC BY 2.0)