But the study offers suggestions for making these batteries better for everyone exposed

A new study shows that lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles could have negative health and environmental impacts, and offers suggestions on how to improve this technology.

The study, conducted by Abt Associates for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), took a look at the materials and processes within a lithium-ion battery’s life cycle in hopes of discovering impacts on public health and the environment. It used data directly from lithium-ion battery suppliers, manufacturers and recyclers for research. 

The study was led by Jay Smith (Abt senior analyst and co-lead of the life-cycle assessment) and Shanika Amarakoon (Abt associate who co-led the life-cycle assessment). 

The researchers found that batteries using cathodes with nickel and cobalt and solvent-based electrode processing are the highest risks for negative health and environmental impacts. These impacts are a result of the production, processing and use of cobalt and nickel metal compounds. The environmental impacts include resource depletion, global warming, and ecological toxicity while the health impacts are poor respiratory, pulmonary and neurological effects.

To lessen such impacts, the study recommends cathode material substitution, recycling of metals from the batteries and solvent-less electrode processing. 

The study also found that the electricity grids for charging lithium-ion batteries contribute to global warming and other environmental and health impacts.

“These impacts are sensitive to local and regional grid mixes,” Amarakoon said.  “If the batteries in use are drawing power from the grids in the Midwest or South, much of the electricity will be coming from coal-fired plants.  If it’s in New England or California, the grids rely more on renewables and natural gas, which emit less greenhouse gases and other toxic pollutants."

Abt Associates also looked into the nanotechnology behind battery performance, and concluded that single-walled carbon nanotubes (SWCNTs) (which are currently being researched for use as anodes) require too much energy for production in the early stages. 

"Over time, if researchers focus on reducing the energy intensity of the manufacturing process before commercialization, the environmental profile of the technology has the potential to improve dramatically,” said Smith.

Source: Abt Associates

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