The Environmental Impacts of Lithium-Ion Batteries
With technology growing ever so fast, the popularity of electric vehicles (EV) is on the incline, and the demand for vehicles like Tesla is only going to rise. As we know, EVs are much better for the environment than traditional gas-powered automobiles. Although, that is not to say they are a 100% clean form of transportation. Currently, the most popular type of battery in EVs is lithium-ion batteries. Companies like Tesla and Volkswagen use this type of battery as it is the most reliable.
The primary metals in this battery are lithium, cobalt, and nickel. How these metals are found and extracted is currently harming the environment. Lithium mining uses a lot of water, it takes around 500,000 gallons of water to produce one ton of lithium. In some regions, this water is being taken away from farmers and reduces the number of crops grown. Lithium mining also calls for the use of toxic chemicals, and there have been instances where these chemicals have leaked into nearby water sources. For example, in Tibet, a toxic chemical leaked from the Ganzizhou Rongda Lithium mine into a nearby river. Almost all the fish from the river died, and this happened three times in seven years.
Unlike almost all other metals, Cobalt is very toxic when it is mined straight from the ground. Since large amounts of it are found across the Democratic Republic of Congo, there is a strong desire to mine it quickly and sell it regardless of ethical behaviour. In the DRC, cobalt is mined mainly by children who are the equivalent of modern-day slaves. They are given no protective equipment and must work hours on end in dangerous conditions.
Charging an Electric Vehicle
Even if your EV is not pumping carbon into the air, it is still not as clean and environmentally friendly as you may think. Most electric vehicle owners charge their vehicle at home, which makes you wonder, where is that electricity coming from? In North America, most electrical grids will have some form of greenhouse gas connected to it. According to Jennifer Dunne of Northwestern University's Center for Engineering Sustainability and Resilience, charging an EV with electricity coming from coal is only marginally better than the traditional gas-powered automobiles. At the end of the day, to see large noticeable drops in EV emissions, the electricity that charges the car needs to come from renewable energy sources like wind and solar power.
Currently, work is already underway on implementing new ways to improve the lithium-ion battery and its life cycle. Researchers are also developing and testing new batteries that do not require lithium and cobalt. Instead, they are using less toxic and more common substances. There are many alternatives to lithium-ion batteries, and they all have their advantages. Check this article out!
Switching to an electric vehicle is a step towards a greener future. As we have learned, lithium-ion batteries and electric vehicles are still not a 100% clean mode of transportation. There is a lot of room for improvement, and in the future, we could likely see EV paired with wind and solar energy systems to minimize their carbon footprint fully.