How Green are Auto Lithium Batteries?

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How Green are Auto Lithium Batteries?
lithium ion battery

Photo by Cliff

Electric cars have really taken off in the last two years or so and it’s understandably the case. Fossil fuelled autos may have become increasingly efficient in the last half decade or so, but in short they still fill the world with nasty exhaust emissions and in addition, they’re also eating up the world’s oil.

New sources of fuel for cars, such as batteries, offer an alternative and are becoming increasingly efficient and practical as the other option. Of course, the most commonly utilised battery technology in this arena is lithium batteries and it’s commonly utilised in electric cars and also hybrids. The most notable thing about these batteries is that they are lighter than older sorts and also can hold charges for far longer periods of time.

 

Components

Lithium batteries don’t completely come from scientist’s labs; their components also come from the earth – so how green are they?

Well, unlike a lot of other technological innovations throughout humanity, acquiring lithium doesn’t require us to completely destroy the earth. There’s no strip mining or dynamite involved, fortunately. Most of the lithium on earth is located in South America, particularly in the Andes Mountains. There are smaller amounts available in China and the USA, some of this is mined from rock in the old fashioned manner.

 

Where’s it Found?

However, lithium is generally found in underground ponds. This is extracted through a liquid pump. The liquid is simply pumped out of the ground and then the remainder is left to dry in the sun. What’s left is known as lithium carbonate, this is then processed and lithium remains. In fact, lithium creation is quite a clean and clear process and most of the damage with lithium batteries is caused through copper and aluminium extraction.

Fossil fuels are added to the mix when the lithium is transferred via train, plane or automobile to wherever the battery plant is. Currently, few or none of these methods are battery powered.

Lithium batteries are assembled at the plant and then the battery is placed in the vehicle for use. This vehicle will of course have no emissions if it’s a purely electric vehicle.  In fact, as you may already know but probably don’t think about- there is no exhaust on an electric car.

 

Charge Holding

Generally, lithium batteries are capable of holding up to 80 per cent of a charge, even after years of use. A lot more than alternatives, we can tell you this for certain from our experience at alpha-batteries.  This may not be ideal for a car, however many lithium batteries are retired for use in wind farms, where they can be used for power storage for a grid.

Finally, when the lithium battery can’t hold a reasonable charge at all it will be taken apart and then the useful bits of it reused. Tesla for example will recycle the fluids used for cooling, as well as the wires and batteries. All the remaining metals and parts are recycled and separated into metals for other uses.

Currently, there are few recycling plants for lithium batteries, simply because the batteries are only really coming to market and so there is no need to recycle them yet. However, expect to see more plants as time comes.


Cormac Reynolds is a writer and a journalist who loves green power and also autos. He’s written for a number of sites in this field before.


Greener Ideal is an independent environmental news and lifestyle publication that has been curating content since 2008 to further the green movement. The views expressed by contributing authors are their own and may not reflect those of Greener Ideal.

  • peter o

    A lot of states still use coal as a fuel for power plants. You glossed over traditional mining techniques we all know how damaging they are. Also the water that is pumped out of the ground where does it dry out? Your back yard? There will be other elements in the ground water. When it dries out what particles blow around, there is always something. Plus pumping water out of the ground cause problems to surrounding water tables. The material has to be shipped, unless you use elves. It has to be processed, packaged etc. Storage containers created etc. So tell the whole story and not gloss over the not so obvious. These will come out in time. All of these things are from current and past events for other production products.

  • peter o

    Sounds like you work for the battery companies. i would like to hear from the miners and peoples that live around the mines, or pump stations. Also the processing workers, for the raw material.All of this is done in a foreign country that is probably corrupt.

  • peter o

    I grew up in NJ they had a carborundum plant that had a pond next to the river that was orange. I wounder if the ponds are lined, they probably leak .I can only imagine the pollution caused to surrounding areas and the aquifers.