As electric vehicles take off, we’ll need to recycle their batteries

29th May 2021 | Commercial Energy

The hundreds of EV (Electric Vehicle) models top automakers are rolling out in the next few years signals that the EV revolution is finally going mainstream. But as this industry, which is key to combating climate change, matures, a new challenge is emerging: how to acquire all of the minerals needed to make EV batteries.

The lithium, nickel, cobalt, and copper inside those batteries were all, at one point, mined from the earth. Today, much of that mining is concentrated in places like Russia, Indonesia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, places where environmental oversight is often poor, labour standards often lax, and the mining industry has a history of fuelling conflicts with local communities. With the number of EVs on the roads expected to rise from 10 million in 2020 to upwards of 145 million by 2030, demand for battery minerals is poised to surge. Some industry watchdogs warn that the clean transit boom could fuel a dirty mining boom.

Electric Vehicles

To reduce the need for new mining, experts say we’re going to have to get a lot better at recycling EV batteries when they die. While only a small number of EV batteries have aged off the streets already, millions of tons of batteries are expected to be decommissioned over the coming decades. Those batteries could supply a significant fraction of the EV industry’s future mineral demand—but better recycling methods and government policies to support them are needed to ensure that batteries don’t wind up in landfills instead.

“The way that this has been flipped is, ‘We’re going to need to deal with these climate issues, let’s develop new mines, let’s extract this out as quickly as possible,’” says Payal Sampat, the Mining Programs director at the environmental nonprofit Earthworks. “And it is definitely the way that short-term planning works. But we have to come up with some thoughtful solutions to this problem that is a very long-term one.”

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