California considers regulations for manufacturing and disposing of electric vehicle batteries

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) — By 2035, every passenger vehicle sold in California must be a zero-emission vehicle.

This means it must run on electricity, hydrogen, or another alternative fuel that does not generate air pollution to operate.

The mandate is expected to reduce greenhouse gases in the state by approximately 35%.

But, while zero-emission vehicles are touted as a solution to our climate crisis, their batteries could also pose a danger to the environment.

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Currently, batteries from first-generation hybrid vehicles are beginning to end up in landfills.

We visited several auto recyclers in the San Francisco area and found hybrid batteries dumped among other car parts or piled up in a corner. One hung from the engine compartment of an old Prius that no longer had a hood and many parts had already been removed.

The operators didn’t know what to do with it.

“There are risks associated with these aging or damaged batteries. The lithium-ion batteries we use in electric vehicles pose a fire hazard. It is important to ensure that these batteries are managed properly at end of life” , said Alissa Kendal, professor of civil and environmental engineering at UC Davis.

Kendall said the metals in batteries are dangerous and could leach into the environment if not handled properly.

It’s a growing concern, especially in California, which is home to about 40% of electric vehicles on the road in the United States.

Vehicles manufactured 10 to 20 years ago are reaching the end of their life.

To get ahead of the problem of battery disposal, two years ago the California legislature established an advisory committee to develop regulations for battery management in zero-emission vehicles.

The California Lithium-ion Battery Recycling Advisory Group was made up of automakers, recyclers and environmentalists.

The aim is to ensure that batteries leaving electric vehicles will either be recycled, reused in another electric vehicle, or to store energy for the grid.

“Our power grid contains a lot of solar, wind, and intermittent renewables. And to be able to provide power continuously throughout the day, we need things like batteries,” said Kendall, who writes the final report of the advisory committee’s recommendations. group.

Mohammad Rasti is already doing some of this work.

Rasti recycles old batteries from hybrid vehicles that he collects from dismantlers, dealers or individuals.

“We check the capacity, voltage and load. We see what load they can hold and if they are reusable, we put them back in the car. If not, we recycle them,” Rasti said. , which operates Hybrid Battery Solution in a small room in San Leandro.

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George Kershner, executive director of PRBA – The Rechargeable Battery Association, said there is a lot of research going on to make these batteries recyclable or reusable.

He doesn’t expect electric vehicle batteries to end up abandoned in landfills as new vehicles reach the end of their life.

“The value of these electric vehicles will only increase and we expect that because of this value there will be a lot of interest in taking these batteries, collecting them, reusing them in other applications. “said Kershner.

Kendall said the state should implement recycling incentives to seize.

“Waste management is rarely profitable for the company doing it, unless there is a fee involved. We pay a deposit on cans and bottles so there is an economic engine to see recycling to happen,” Kendall said. “The same can be said for these batteries. We have to recognize that the industry may not grow on its own.”

Kendall cites lead acid batteries as an example. These batteries, which are used to start vehicles, are more than 99% recycled in the United States.

“It’s a very successful program, but we all pay a deposit at the start. And when you put that battery back in, the deposit comes back. And that’s how we manage those batteries and get them recycled. Right now, for electric batteries, we don’t have any program in place,” Kendall explained.

The advisory group is considering a similar program for electric car batteries.

When the vehicle is under warranty, the vehicle manufacturer is responsible for the battery.

When it is time to scrap the vehicle, dismantling will be responsible for it.

If no one wants the vehicle, the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) would again take responsibility for the battery.

But battery disposal is just one environmental concern. Doing the drums is another.

“We can’t replace dirty oil with dirty mining,” said Jennifer Krill, executive director of Earthworks, a nonprofit that fights to reduce the environmental impact of mining and extraction. of energy.

“Traditionally, mining is one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions and to have electric vehicles we need new metals like lithium and cobalt that we never needed. on a large scale before,” Krill said.

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According to Kendall, much of the new lithium comes from hard rock mines in Australia, which tend to have greater environmental impacts.

Earthworks has created a system called the Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance (IRMA) to certify that mines respect environmental regulations and human rights in their operations.

Last year, the California legislature created the Lithium Valley Commission to study the mining of lithium from the Salton Sea, an area of ​​the Southern California desert that is already considered one of the most polluted places in the state.

The lithium comes from the brine brought up during the production of geothermal electricity.

“It’s very important that if an extraction takes place, that the communities that are on the front lines of that extraction don’t bear the brunt of the environmental damage,” Krill said.

There are also concerns about the mining of minerals like cobalt, copper, manganese and nickel which are used in car batteries at the bottom of the ocean.

These minerals are found in abundance along an area that stretches from Hawaii to Mexico.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium is co-sponsoring legislation banning mining leases within three miles of the California coast. It’s hoping it inspires bans further out in the deep ocean.

“At the bottom of the ocean, we have deep-sea corals that have been living for hundreds, even thousands of years,” said Amy Wolfrum, senior director of California Ocean Policy at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Wolfrum said deep-ocean marine animals are at the base of the food chain for large animals like whales and dolphins.

“Seafloor mining destroys entire communities of animals and habitats as it grinds the crust of the seabed to recover minerals that mining companies would like to have,” adds Wolfrum.

Steve Haddock, a marine biologist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, is concerned about the impact of seafloor mining on the water column, the subsurface water area, and the ocean floor.

Haddock explains that when the seabed is scoured for minerals, the sediment is pumped to a ship to extract the minerals. The remaining silt and mud are pumped into the ocean where they can be carried by currents up to 100 miles.

He fears that organisms that live in the water column will eat up this non-nutrient sediment and be essentially starved of nutrients.

Sediments can also obscure the water column.

“These waters are so transparent that organisms can interact. Once you introduce that silt, it actually absorbs that blue light that they use to communicate and that will affect their feeding, mate finding, and all kinds of processes that rest on bioluminescence in the water column,” Haddock said.

The good news is that automakers are more sensitive to environmental concerns while manufacturing zero-emission vehicles.

Electric vehicle developers and drivers choose electric vehicles because they care on some level about the impacts. So this is a group of buyers who are tailor-made to build a new circular economy system. rather than linear,” says Jennifer Krill.

In 2020, Tesla founder Elon Musk called on the mining industry to produce more nickel for zero-emission vehicles “in an environmentally responsible way”.

This spring, BMW and Volvo backed a moratorium on deep-sea mining until the environmental impacts are fully understood. Both automakers have pledged not to source minerals from the seabed or fund deep-sea mining.

BMW, Ford, General Motors and Mercedes Benz have all joined Earthwork’s Responsible Mining Insurance Initiative.

“We have this moment where automakers recognize that they have to do things better than previous generations of automakers. We think it’s really important to get electric vehicles to work well,” Krill said.


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