Our grantee Earthworks issued a study on the current status and future potential of strategies to reduce demand for new mining, particularly for lithium-ion battery metals for electric vehicles. The report notes that with the world rushing to meet climate change mitigation goals, for “renewable energy to be socially and ecologically sustainable, industry and government should develop and support responsible management strategies that reduce the adverse impacts along the material and technology supply chains.”

The report said these policy recommendations are needed to enable greatest demand reduction:

Collection: Improved collection of [electric vehicle (EV)] [lithium-ion batteries (LIBs)] at [end-of-life (EOL)] could be enabled through stronger policy supporting traceability over battery lifetimes, supported by good information sharing along the supply chain and increased efforts in stakeholder education from [original equipment manufacturer (OEMs)] to EV consumers.

Transport: The clarification of definitions including “waste” and “reuse” as applied to EV LIB batteries in safe handling and transport regulations within and across jurisdictions, and specific, standardised protocols for transporting and handling EV LIB batteries intended for second life applications are required to overcome current transportation barriers.

Design: While the standardisation of design practices and configurations for EV LIB, including in chemistry, size, shape and disassembly requirements would enable, reuse and recycling to be more efficient and scalable, issues of commercial confidence may make this solution unviable. Alternatively, greater incentives to improve ease of disassembly and ensure those processing batteries for reuse and recycling have adequate information about the battery would aid in market development, and contexts where OEMs have established partnerships with second life battery users, such as energy companies.

Standards: Improved standards are required that pertain to: methods used to assess battery safety and performance for second life applications, such as energy storage; processes of sorting and grading battery packs, modules, cells and electrochemical capacitors; requirements for specific battery systems repurposed for specific applications and repurposed battery pack components; standards pertaining specifically to battery reuse and refurbishment requirements; and, recycling standards that encourage high- value recovery of all battery materials.

Definitions: A clearly defined legal framework within which a second life battery market can develop should be created within each appropriate jurisdiction. This will enable consistent communication between parties along the supply chain and ensure that batteries are able to be directed to the most appropriate EOL pathway without unnecessary administrative burdens and costs.

Read the entire report.

Related reading: This National Geographic article features the report and why recycling batteries will be essential to increasing use of electric vehicles.

In The Guardian, Thea Riofrancos discusses “the emerging environmental dilemma” of pivoting to renewable energy and electric vehicles to reduce carbon emissions via “destructive lithium mining.” In addition to reducing the need for new mining, Riofrancos argues “mining operations should be required to respect international laws protecting indigenous rights to consent, and governments ought to consider outright moratoria on mines in sensitive ecosystems and watersheds.”