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More electric vehicles (EVs) are on the roads than ever before as many Canadians start to get away from Internal combustion vehicles to reduce carbon emissions that contribute to climate change. But what about the environmental impact of the batteries used to power this electric transmission?
Many of you have sent questions after reading This article About electric vehicle charging stations. Ask a CBC News follower and get the answers you’ve been looking for.
How many types of batteries and how do they work?
As the electric vehicle market expands and consumers have more choices when it comes to make and models, it’s important to understand the different types of batteries and what goes into them.
according to US Department of EnergyThere are four main types of energy storage systems used in electric vehicles:
Lithium ion batteries: These are used in devices such as cell phones and laptops. It is widely preferred in the electric vehicle industry due to its high efficiency, good performance at high temperatures, low self-discharge (a chemical reaction that causes charge loss) and the fact that most of its components can be recycled.
Nickel metal hydride batteries: You can find them in many hybrids on the market, although in most plug-in electric vehicles, they have been replaced by lithium-ion batteries. The main challenges facing nickel-metal hydride batteries are their high cost, high self-discharge and low performance at higher temperatures. However, they are generally considered to be safer than lithium batteries, due to the lack of liquid electrolyte that can spill during accidents.
Lead acid batteries: It is the cheapest and oldest type of battery. Charging and operating them emit hydrogen, oxygen, and sulfur. They were used to power early versions of electric vehicles in the 1970s.
Super Capacitors: Useful for providing additional power for acceleration and hill climbing, they can be used as a secondary storage of energy in electric vehicles because they can store and release energy quickly – while keeping the main batteries from overheating.
In recent years, there has been a significant focus on other battery types. For example, Tesla made last year Lithium Iron Phosphate (LFP) Their battery of choice for vehicles with a standard range.
“From a chemical standpoint and from a life cycle perspective, it can last four to five times longer than a lithium-ion battery, and is considered safer as well,” said Giuseba Petronic, President and CEO of Canadian Urban Transit Research. Innovation Consortium.
Tesla researchers are also working with Dalhousie University in Halifax to develop a nickel-nickel battery that is more durable than the LFP battery and Can last 100 years or more in optimal conditions.
How long do you expect an EV battery to last?
This depends on the batteries used and how you take care of them. Depending on the current electric vehicle market, battery packs should come with an eight-year warranty. However, Steve Levine, Editor electricitya publication that focuses on electric cars and lithium-ion batteries, says they actually last longer.
When an EV battery pack degrades to about 75 percent of its original capacity, it is considered to be at the end of its life stage.
“Car manufacturers expect that the battery will degrade, and begin to degrade on day one. But they want consumers to have 75 to 80 percent of that capacity after about five to seven years,” Petronik said.
To keep your battery healthy, it’s recommended that you don’t charge your electric vehicle above 80 percent, and you shouldn’t let your electric vehicle discharge completely, at zero percent, according to green carsa US-based electric vehicle advocacy group
“This is something that takes a little getting used to,” Petronik said.
She said that if you keep your battery charge in the optimum range, you can extend battery life by at least 50 percent.
How are used batteries disposed of? Can it be recycled?
Petrunic said that while all battery components are recyclable, the biggest challenge is that the recycling industry for these products is not well developed.
Electric cars are still new to the auto industry – so only a few of them have useful ends in their lives.
“Metals are recyclable, but not as valuable … as iron and phosphates,” Levine said. “Lithium has value.”
He said policy decisions by governments are necessary to stimulate recycling of iron and phosphate equipment.
Lithium-ion and nickel-metal hydride batteries can be recycled through smelting.
The intensive and potentially hazardous process recovers valuable minerals and salts, which are refined and made suitable for use. When done properly, lithium can be used, for example, as an additive in concrete.
according to US Department of Energy.
Recycling can be expensive, according to green carsso changing items may be more cost-effective.
Many automakers are exploring different ways to recycle used electric car batteries. In Japan, the older Nissan used by running street lights.
“If your battery, you know, is no longer used in a Tesla car… it’s still a battery cell that can store [energy]said John Axen, Director of the Sustainable Transportation Actions Research Team at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, British Columbia
Axsen, for example, suggested that old EV batteries could be used to store energy generated by solar panels in your home.
But Petronik stressed that the challenge with repurposing electric vehicle batteries is that they were not built for this purpose.
“You’d actually have to put in a lot of money to recycle the old batteries so that they could serve that consistent purpose,” she said.
Where do the raw materials for batteries come from?
According to the US National Institute of Health (NIH), the main materials used to make electric vehicle batteries are Graphite, cobalt, lithium, manganese, nickel.
However, purchasing these key minerals is not an easy task as they come from different mines around the world.
China was the largest extractor and processor of graphite – the most common metal used in electric car batteries. According to S&P Global Commodity Insights, China almost dominates 79 percent of global production, though other countries Launching graphite mining projects to ease demand.
“There is a possibility that some of these minerals can be found in Canada and certainly in northern Ontario; this mining capacity is not particularly developed,” Petronik said.
For lithium, the production market is relatively small, according to the National Institutes of Health. Lithium extraction has been dominated by Australia, although Bolivia, Argentina and Chile are considered the “Lithium Triangle”, where they are said to have the largest reserves, According to Natural Resources Canada.
The largest producer of cobalt – one of the most expensive materials in demand – is the Democratic Republic of the Congo. However, Earth’s supply of cobalt may not be able to meet demand in the future, which is why some companies are investing in developing cobalt-free batteries.
Nickel mining and production in world markets It is dominated by Southeast Asia, especially Indonesia, According to the National Institutes of Health. They also state that the use of nickel in electric vehicle batteries makes up only five percent of the global market, but is expected to rise to 15 percent over the next five years.
From mining raw materials to manufacturing to recycling, are electric vehicles really sustainable?
While all electric vehicles powered only by electricity will have no exhaust pipe emissions, emissions may be produced where the electricity is generated.
according to Report from the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT), electric vehicles have the “lowest life cycle of greenhouse gas emissions.”
When comparing emissions during manufacturing, another ICCT . Report It found that manufacturing electric vehicles requires more energy and produces more emissions than manufacturing conventional cars, due to the mineral extraction processes required for batteries.
When it comes to mining the resources for electric car batteries, some experts question the consequences of unregulated mining in developing countries. Specifically, concerns more Worker safety and exploitation It was bred in the last few years.
“You see these images of very negative effects from mining,” Axen said.
He believes that a lack of regulation and oversight can harm people and ecosystems.
“As part of this big shift we need for climate change toward zero-emission vehicles and batteries, we need to make sure that we regulate the processes by which we extract these materials,” Axen said.
Petrunic adds that it’s also important to use these compounds until they reach the end of their life cycle.
“If people buy high-quality cars and their leases take three years, and they exchange after three years, I’m not convinced that you’ll necessarily reach a zero-zero future,” she said.
You can see how greenhouse gas emissions are measured for any given car model’s current climate goals using this Online interactive tool from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.