Eco Friendly Batteries
According to Kate Krebs from the U.S. National Recycling Coalition, "Lithium Ion batteries are classified by the federal (U.S.) government as non-hazardous waste and are safe for disposal in the normal municipal waste stream."
The metals in lithium ion batteries - cobalt, copper, nickel and iron - are considered safe for landfills or incinerators. The lithium in lithium ion batteries is in an ionic form (hence the name) but they do not contain lithium metal which is very reactive and corrodes quickly in air. It is also highly flamable in its elemental state.
Lithium ion batteries are made from nontoxic lithium carbonate (often used in ovenware), nontoxic cobalt oxide (used as a pottery glaze), nontoxic graphite (used in pencils), and a polymer (plastic) membrane. The most toxic components in the final product are the electrolyte and lithium cobalt oxide, neither of which are persistant in the environment and both of which are increasingly being replaced by more benign compounds.
In April 2009 Wang Chuan-Fu, CEO at Chinese automaker BYD, recently demonstrated the safety of the electrolyte in their lithium ion batteries by drinking it and was reported as saying: "Doesn't taste good". The message however was clear; you can't solve one environment problem by replacing it with another.
Company founder of Zero Motorcycles, Neal Saiki, has stated that the Lithium Ion batteries they use are even "safe to eat."
It is good to know that dumping these batteries will not cause environmental concerns but it would be crazy to dump such valuable material. Without doubt lithium ion batteries from electric vehicles will have as high a rate of recycling as current lead acid batteries from internal combustion engine vehicles which is greater than 97%.
Even before lithium ion vehicle batteries would be recycled they can be put to other uses as they are considered worn out for the purposes of powering a vehicle when they reach a recharge rate of 80% of their original capacity.
That takes normally between 5 to 8 years for current lithium ion batteries. The batteries can be used as energy storage systems at that stage prior to eventually being recycled.
Commercial examples of Lithium Ion storage are already in the marketplace.
Energy storage systems such as that recently announced by Panasonic will be trialled in Japan in 2011 using Lithium ion battery technology. "We'll be the first to bring to the market a storage battery for home use, which can store sufficient electricity for about one week of use," said Fumio Otsubo, president of Panasonic, in a recent interview with The Yomiuri Shimbun.
Energy from the sun powering a home and electric vehicles with zero emissions is looming as a distincty possibly in the near future. Saying goodbye to utility providers and big oil is I'm sure an attractive proposition for most people.
Recycling lithium ion batteries is already carried out at the Toxco recycling facility in British Columbia Canada. The residual electricity is removed as the first stage in the recycle. The batteries are frozen to make them safe for shredding at which point the materials are separated. Metals are collected and sold while the lithium components are converted to lithium carbonate for resale. Electrolytes are neutralized to form stable compounds while plastic and other components are recovered for recycling.
The process at Toxco is mostly remotely controlled and the recycling carried out by industrial robots.
Nissan Motor company and Sumitomo Corp. announced in October 2009 plans to establish a joint venture for the recycling of lithium ion car batteries.
As lithium is considered a comparitively rare element according to the Handbook of Lithium and Natural Calcium with limited world supplies, (discounting the seemingly inexhuastible amount of 230 billion tonnes found in sea water) recycling will most certainly be employed to reuse the materials.
Having said that research in 2004 sponsored by the United States Department of Energy, Office of Transportation Technologies, Office of Advanced Automotive Technologies indicates that supply of the materials used in the construction of lithium batteries (including the lithium) will not be problematic.