There is no questioning the fact that electric vehicles are the future. Data shows that in 2023, over 14 million EVs have been sold in several countries across the world. In August, EVs accounted for 38% of all new vehicle sales in China, which is currently the biggest market for EVs in the world. While these numbers are staggering, many people have expressed concerns over the impact of EV mineral mining on the environment.
EVs batteries use minerals like lithium, cobalt, and nickel, which are extracted from mines located in countries like Congo, Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, South Africa, and Australia. Environmental activists claim that the process of extracting minerals from EV batteries contributes to environmental degradation.
The fact is that concerns over EV mineral mining are misplaced. Even after taking into account the impact of EV mineral mining on the environment, EVs are still a much better and cleaner alternative to fossil fuel-based cars for several reasons. Let us take a look.
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Why the Concerns over EV Mineral Mining Are Misplaced
Experts say that the impact of EV mineral mining on the environment is relatively minimal compared to the devastating impact of fossil fuels. It is estimated that the average gasoline-powered passenger vehicle – if used on a daily basis – emits 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. EVs, on the other hand, do not impact the environment in any way, as they do not produce any tailpipe emissions.
Secondly, and more importantly, most minerals and other materials used in EV batteries can be recycled. Experts say that as much as 80% to 90% of the materials in EV batteries can be repurposed and reused. This is not the case with fossil fuels, which simply burn off and disappear into the atmosphere, and the resulting damages cannot be reversed in most cases.
Experts say that the materials in EV batteries can be recycled and reused in two ways – the pyrometallurgical process and the hydrometallurgical process. The pyrometallurgical process involves heating up the materials in extremely high temperatures to recover the core component minerals. On the other hand, the hydrometallurgical process involves using chemical solutions to separate the desired minerals from other components.
Between these two methods, hydrometallurgy is considered the best way to recycle and reuse EV battery materials, as it is environmentally benign and can be scaled to meet the rising demands of the EV industry.
Experts believe that EV recycling technology can go a long way in creating a circular ecosystem and economy where the materials extracted for EV batteries can be reused and the need to extract and use fresh materials can be reduced to a significant extent.
It should also be noted that even in cases where EV batteries cannot be recycled, they can still be reused. For instance, old EV batteries can be used as a backup power system for the grid, which can reduce the strain on the grid to a great extent. Data shows that carbon emissions from recycled EV batteries are nearly four times lower than the emissions from EV batteries made with newly mined materials. It is why recycling and reusing EV batteries is seen as the most effective way to reduce the overall carbon footprint associated with the EV industry.
Reusing EV Batteries – Soon to be a Reality
Many companies are getting into the business of recycling and refurbishing old and faulty EV batteries so that they can be used to power vehicles again. These companies claim that the technology to repair and refurbish EV batteries is already here. It just needs to be fine-tuned so that it becomes more efficient and more affordable so that it can be scaled and replicated all over the world.
Experts say that a faulty or old EV battery can be repaired and refurbished to meet the standards of a new EV battery and can be used to power a new vehicle. On the other hand, end-of-life batteries can be recycled, and the key component materials can be reused for new batteries.
Experts also say that the costs associated with repairing and refurbishing EV batteries are also going down at a rapid pace. In a few years, EV owners might be able to sell their old EV batteries to refurbishment experts and get paid for them, as the intrinsic value of a battery might be higher than the costs associated with refurbishing it. Such a technology can be truly transformative, as it can make it easier for EV manufacturers to scale their operations without worrying about the issue of environmental degradation.
Ethical Supply Chain – Changing the EV Industry for the Better
The recently passed Inflation Reduction Act states that by 2027, 80% of critical minerals required for EV batteries must be mined, processed, or recycled in the U.S. or in countries that have signed a free trade agreement with the U.S. The act also states that EVs that contain minerals mined or processed in China and other countries that are considered ‘foreign entities of concern’ will not be eligible to receive Clean Vehicle Credits.
The act is seen by many as a significant step in ensuring that the components needed for EV batteries and vehicles are sourced, processed, and manufactured in an ethical way, while reducing the impact on the environment to the extent possible.
The act is also expected to boost the EV recycling industry in the U.S. Since China is the global leader in mining and processing minerals like lithium, cobalt, and graphite, EV manufacturers in the U.S. are more likely to turn to recycling EV batteries, rather than trying to out-manufacture China. As recycling end-of-life batteries becomes an important goal to be achieved, companies are likely to invest a great deal of effort and resources into making the technology more affordable, more efficient, and scalable. The end result, as you can imagine, would be a future where EV batteries can be manufactured, used, and recycled with minimal impact on the environment.