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1. Is electric energy really sustainable or just trendy?

A basic overview

Today, we are becoming more and more concerned about the environment and the importance of taking actions to save the planet.

One of the multitude solutions is using renewable and electric energy which provides an ecological yet practical response to the decarbonization of the environment. The key to using these electric rechargeable technologies is lithium ion batteries. With an increase of all our sustainable products like EV (Electric Vehicles) for example, we are more than ever in need of millions of batteries.

Every year, around 800.000 tons of automotive batteries, 190.000 tons of industrial batteries, and 160.000 tons of portable batteries enter the European Union. And these figures are growing year after year.

The used Lithium-Ion battery market is expected to reach 7 million tonnes per year by 2040, according to Argonne National Laboratory. Yet less than 5% of lithium batteries are currently recycled. Meaning that the remaining 95% are either dangerously stockpiled or become landfill waste. These batteries contain toxic heavy metals; which can easily make their way into our water systems and through the food chain.

What is a Lithium Ion battery?

A lithium-ion battery is a family of rechargeable battery types in which lithium ions move from the negative electrode to the positive electrode during discharge and back when charging. It powers the lives of millions of people each day in different areas like mobility, construction, healthcare and much more.

In order to create a lithium ion battery, specific substances are required like cobalt, nickel, manganese and other metals. These are extracted from the mining of our natural resources. Moreover, the processing of lithium requires a high quantity of water; to extract a ton of lithium, 1,900 tons of water are needed, which is consumed by evaporation. Lithium ion batteries are classified as a hazardous product. When they are at their end of life, there is a high risk of fire, emission of toxic gases and explosion, which demands proper handling. A battery ending in a landfill will result in the contamination of soil and groundwater, threatening ecosystems and human health. 

Thus, with the amount of manufactured batteries increasing, the scarcity of most of the resources required to produce batteries, and the need for conscious careful handling of end of life batteries (collection and recycling: a process we like to call urban mining) is extremely important and until now completely underestimated.

Which solution to face the pollution?

The most efficient solution in order to make this process more sustainable is to create a circular economy for batteries.

Consequently, there are European Directives regulating under the EPR (European Producer Responsibility – Directive 2008/98/CE 19 November 2008.) In this Directive, the company putting a battery on the national market for the first time is called a producer. It can also be a manufacturer, importer, or distributor. The aim of these standards and regulations is to ensure safety. This directive makes it mandatory for a producer to take care of their used batteries. Therefore, they have to inform the end users about the dangers of the product and the necessity to dispose of them properly. They need to propose a collection scheme to collect and recycle used batteries.

Furthermore, by law, a company introducing batteries on the market needs a financial program to make sure the necessary funds are available to handle the waste. (Even for batteries produced 10 years earlier). This responsibility is subject to control and mandatory declarations. Each government gathers all the reports and figures on the POM (Put on market), POff (Put off market) and Recycled products so they can prove that they are complying with the European Directives. 

Interestingly, this directive is not well known by producers, meaning they are sometimes not aware of their responsibility and if they do, don’t always know how to comply with this directive. NOWOS is born out of this need for service, helping producers take care of the reverse logistics and compliance with the European Directives.

What are the benefits of recycling?

Urban mining and reusing metals, reclaimed out of used batteries, lower production costs of new batteries. More recycling means less mining of virgin materials and less associated environmental harm. These scarce materials represent more than half the cost of a new battery. By using metals from collected batteries, the price of a new battery drops. 

Moreover, recycling batteries avoids abusives practices. Most of the world’s production of cobalt comes from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and is tied to armed conflict, illegal mining, human rights abuses, child labour, and harmful environmental practices. 

NOWOS believes in a circular economy, benefiting people, planet and profit.

Is recycling that easy?

Recycling a lithium-ion battery is still a challenge. First, we need to collect them. The awareness of disposing of used batteries is low, plus, collection schemes are not well developed. As a result, often batteries are thrown in the garbage or regular household recycling bins which should not be the case as it is highly dangerous. Then, after the collection, we need to transport the batteries. As the batteries are classified as class 9 by the dangerous good regulation – “Miscellaneous dangerous goods”, it requires strict rules. 

Specific packaging needs to be used after the batteries are classified according to 3 states; end of life, damaged/defective, and dangerous/unstable. Conforming to ADR (European Agreement of 30 September 1957 concerning the International Carriage of Dangerous Goods by Road), each member state should be packed differently and there are strict rules to comply with. The transport can only be done by an expert and ADR certified company.

Finally, the batteries need to be recycled. In Europe, there are only a few recyclers specialized and able to harvest useful components from lithium-ion batteries. 

How can NOWOS help your organization? 

NOWOS is specialized in the recycling of useful materials from urban waste (Urban Mining), more specifically from Lithium-Ion batteries. The aim is to not only to reclaim raw materials from these batteries, but to do so in a way that has a positive effect on our planet, people and profit. Nowos also provides advice, support and services to producers and distributors of batteries for them to comply with European battery legislation.

The main purpose is to recycle batteries more efficiently in order to extract as many of the raw materials as possible. With the belief that, effective recycling of used lithium batteries is a more sustainable solution than mining for virgin materials to help our planet to regenerate.

Both producers and distributors have a legal responsibility to collect and recycle the products they have placed on the market at the end of their lives. It is NOWOS role to properly organize all operational matters regarding the reverse logistics to the recycling center and all legal tasks on behalf of the customers. By unburdening producers and distributors, NOWOS contributes to the development of the circular economy and the preservation of our natural resources. The company is dedicated to making a positive impact on the world.

What is the point to try to be sustainable using electric products, if, at the end, batteries end up in the landfills polluting the world even more?


Let’s make a truly positive environmental and ethical impact with our batteries!
This is an increasingly important concern in which we should take actions to normalize the recycling of Lithium Ion batteries to result in a better world.

 

If you need help with your batteries or have any questions, feel free to contact me by email at helene@nowos.com.

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