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Sat May 29, 2021, 06:30 AM

A dead battery dilemma

Last edited Sat May 29, 2021, 09:20 AM - Edit history (1)

The Science news item I'll discuss in this post is this one: A dead battery dilemma Ian Morse, Science 21 May 2021: Vol. 372, Issue 6544, pp. 780-783.

Subtitle: With millions of electric vehicles set to hit the road, scientists are seeking better battery recycling methods.

Ian Morse, the author of this news item, despite publishing a news article in one of the world's most prestigious general scientific journals is not, apparently, a scientist. He is a journalist, which explains why he has utilized a misleading subtitle, since it implies that batteries are currently recycled. Currently they largely are not; as is explained by the caption to the first picture in the news article.

The picture in question:

The caption:

A shredded electric vehicle battery can yield recyclable metals, but it is often cheaper for batterymakers to use new materials.

Cheaper for whom? For us, or for future generations, about whom, apparently, we couldn't care less?

The news item is probably open sourced. I have accessed it without signing in to the journal. Here anyway, is an excerpt:

The battery pack of a Tesla Model S is a feat of intricate engineering. Thousands of cylindrical cells with components sourced from around the world transform lithium and electrons into enough energy to propel the car hundreds of kilometers, again and again, without tailpipe emissions. But when the battery comes to the end of its life, its green benefits fade. If it ends up in a landfill, its cells can release problematic toxins, including heavy metals. And recycling the battery can be a hazardous business, warns materials scientist Dana Thompson of the University of Leicester. Cut too deep into a Tesla cell, or in the wrong place, and it can short-circuit, combust, and release toxic fumes.

That's just one of the many problems confronting researchers, including Thompson, who are trying to tackle an emerging problem: how to recycle the millions of electric vehicle (EV) batteries that manufacturers expect to produce over the next few decades. Current EV batteries “are really not designed to be recycled,” says Thompson, a research fellow at the Faraday Institution, a research center focused on battery issues in the United Kingdom.

That wasn't much of a problem when EVs were rare. But now the technology is taking off. Several carmakers have said they plan to phase out combustion engines within a few decades, and industry analysts predict at least 145 million EVs will be on the road by 2030, up from just 11 million last year. “People are starting to realize this is an issue,” Thompson says.

"People are starting to realize..."

Might it not have been a better idea to have thought this issue through before declaring, as everyone everywhere does in an overly facile fashion, that batteries are "green," because they can store so called "renewable energy?"

Excuse me for being, um, difficult and raising difficult questions.

To my knowledge, there is one, and only one, new technology for which one of its inventors considered the sustainability and acceptance and risk issue before the industry was built: That would be nuclear energy. Among others, Enrico Fermi, who designed and built the first nuclear reactor under a squash court in Chicago, wondered if the public would accept the accumulation of radioactive fission products if nuclear reactors went commercial. This consideration did not stop Enrico Fermi from designing and building nuclear reactors: He advocated for the first nuclear reactor ever to be utilized to generate an electric current. It produced enough electricity to light a small incandescent light bulb.

The long term storage of fission products, all of which I contend are extremely useful, or would be in a sane world as opposed to the world in which we actually live, has resulted in an extraordinarily low death toll, lower than the death toll associated with explosions buildings utilizing dangerous natural gas, and a huge order of magnitude lower with the death toll associated with the inability to contain dangerous fossil fuel waste and dangerous combustion waste from "renewable" biomass:

It is still not clear, 70 years later, whether the public "accepts" the accumulation of fission products, although a few thousand metric tons of fission products have been created. The public however accepts billions of tons of dangerous fossil fuel waste, which kills approximately seven million people per year, not counting climate change, which causes hundreds of billions of dollars of damage in ever more regular "extreme" weather events, albeit that such weather events are not really "extreme" any more.

The scientific literature is filled, absolutely filled, with oodles and oodles of discussions of the issue of recycling batteries. The current issue of one of the journals I regularly read, ACS Sustainable Chemistry and Engineering, which I just went through tonight, has two articles on approaches to recycling batteries, including this one: Strengthening Valuable Metal Recovery from Spent Lithium-Ion Batteries by Environmentally Friendly Reductive Thermal Treatment and Electrochemical Leaching, (Shuya Lei, Yintao Zhang, Shaole Song, Rui Xu, Wei Sun, Shengming Xu, and Yue Yang, ACS Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering 2021 9 (20), 7053-7062)

Some fun text from that paper's introduction:

With their advantages of good cycle performance, high discharge capacity, and large energy density, lithium-ion batteries (LIBs) have been widely used in electric vehicles and electronic products.(1,2) In 2020, the number and weight of LIBs exceeded 25 billion and 500,000 tons, respectively.(3) On one hand, a large amount of raw materials, such as nickel, cobalt, and lithium, will be consumed to produce the cathode materials of LIBs. According to U.S. Geological Survey, the global reserves of nickel, cobalt, and lithium have reached 74,000,000, 7,100,000, and 16,000,000 tons, respectively, and they predicted that the amount of nickel, cobalt, and lithium required to produce LIBs will exceed 340,000, 910,000, and 230,000 tons, respectively, in 2025.(4) Resource supplies have become scarce. On the other hand, the increase in the application of LIBs will produce a large quantity of spent LIBs. Many valuable metals, such as copper, aluminum, nickel, cobalt, and lithium, are contained in these spent LIBs.(5,6) Effective recovery of the valuable metals from spent LIBs has been considered as an effective way to alleviate the shortage of resources.(7)

Well, there you have it. There is a shortage of resources for something generally described as supporting what is claimed to be "renewable."

By the way, a process that is electrochemical and/or a process that is thermal, by definition requires energy.. I never tire of pointing out that infrastructure that is both economically and environmentally superior to all other processes will be a continuous process.

Maybe we can get the necessary energy to recycle batteries by, um, burning them. Another picture and caption from the news item cited at the outset:

The caption:

A technician in Germany makes sure a burned lithium-ion battery is discharged before further recycling.

It's widely experienced, if swept under the rug with other unpleasant things we don't wish to ponder, that the wind doesn't always blow and the sun doesn't always shine. This is true even in renewable energy nirvanas like California, where wind and solar droughts are not just possible, but are known.

The recommended solution: Mine more copper to make more copper wires.

It's an issue in Germany as well, and they have a word for it: Dunkelflaute.

Let's all depend on the weather, even while we destroy weather stability while we exercise all this popular enthusiasm for going "green."


The issue of the availability of mass goes beyond batteries of course.

Here's an editorial from another scientific journal, Nature Reviews Materials: Raw materials for a truly green future It was published this month. “People are starting to realize this is an issue...”

Some text from the editorial:

Most electric cars run on Li-ion batteries, which require substantial amounts of both Li and Co. Mining these elements is far from what we would call ‘green’. Most Co comes from mines in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where the issue of pollution is compounded by concerns about human-rights violations. Owing to the large amounts of water its mining requires, the extraction of Li has a big impact on regions with scarce water resources (most Li comes from Australia, Chile and Argentina). Richard Herrington reflects on how we can secure acceptable sources for the raw materials we require to transition to a green economy in a Comment in this issue.

The link to the popular automotive press occurs in the original editorial.

Another link appears in the editorial which I will produce outside of it.

Mining our green future (Comment, Richard Herrington, Nature Reviews Materials, published 24 May 2021.)

Some text:

In 2020, amidst the COVID-19 crisis, the World Economic Forum’s Great Reset initiative highlighted the crossroads society faces for its post-pandemic rebuild in the context of climate and planetary emergencies and ambitions for a new inclusive social contract. The idea is that the energy industry is transformed and rebuilt in a resilient, equitable and sustainable way, while harnessing the innovations of the fourth industrial revolution. The United Nation’s ‘race to zero’ pledge to cut carbon emissions to zero by 2050, enthusiastically adopted by government and industry alike, further demands a transformation to energy sourced from sustainable technologies rather than the burning of fossil fuels, which fuelled the first three industrial revolutions. However, these green technologies carry intensive mineral demands.

"Green technologies..."

I would consider the title of this comment to be an abuse of language. Is it not inherently true that any technology, that depends on vast mining of readily depleted resources is not green?

Go figure.

We live in the age of the "big lie." Reality, even obvious reality, no longer matters.

“People are starting to realize this is an issue...”

We hit 420 ppm concentrations of the dangerous fossil fuel waste carbon dioxide in the planetary atmosphere, well less than ten years after we first hit 400 ppm.

History will not forgive us, nor should it.

Have a wonderful Memorial Day weekend.

Edited for typos.

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Response to NNadir (Original post)

Sat May 29, 2021, 07:58 AM

1. You are saying that

our corporations went whole hog into making something that they knew would be expensive and in demand without the lightest thought as to fallout, waste, or potential damage to the environment and/or us? You must be kidding!

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Response to NNadir (Original post)

Sat May 29, 2021, 08:09 AM

2. Very thought provoking.

Thanks for posting this. Might you consider posting this in GD so more eyes will see it?

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Response to NNadir (Original post)

Sat May 29, 2021, 08:15 AM

3. Timely article. I want to relate an old tech battery tale.

My old lead-acid batteries would last almost a decade. I attribute this to low exposure to summer's heat.

Then they went to sealed acid batteries. I avoided them for years. Then the inevitable. Suddenly the warranties were shortened. Battery life plunged. My 5 year lead acid was underperforming last year. I wondered, how do you add water to it? Enough YouTube videos you can find anything. Peal the label with a hair dryer, add water. That sucker took more than 10 ounces of water in the 6 cells, some took more than others. The ones on the end, near the vents, tended to dry out.

The simple addition of distilled water has revived the battery. It charges to over 12.1V again.

I wonder, and think, this is what's going on. Modern cars with all the electronics drain a tremendous amount of power at rest. So the batteries wear out faster. So they shortened the warranties to the expected life of 3 years or so. Though some have 2 year or even 18 months. Sealed batteries were a solution. If you don't add water, yes, 3 years or so is about the life of the battery. So just toss them at that point.

Have you noticed the price of batteries? The $50 battery of 2010 is now $130-150! It costs THAT much more?? I feel like pricing is reaping the last windfall from lead-acid technology, perhaps to help pay for the more modern battery tech.

My point being we are told a pile of lies on a steady basis.

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Response to NNadir (Original post)

Sat May 29, 2021, 08:32 AM

4. It going to get worse as manufacturer of convention batteries for cars...

make new batteries that died off quicker.... There was a time you got a 5 or 10 yrs battery, now most are 24-36 mos. Even unused battery's on the shelf will go bad

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Response to NNadir (Original post)

Sat May 29, 2021, 08:49 AM

5. i'll know we're serious about saving the planet

when we start mining landfills and superfund sites.

why we dont just mine coal ash, i will never know.
modern photography and printing owe their existence to german chemists who figured out what was in the soot of 'town gas', gas vented from coal mines used for gas light.
same stuff. there's just no way it's cheaper to grind big rocks into dust than it is to suck up slurry from an ash pit.
from there it's the easy part.

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Response to NNadir (Original post)

Sat May 29, 2021, 08:57 AM

6. I get yelled at every time I bring up the fallacy of 'total elec"

Not to mention the "rare earth" minerals that China has a stranglehold on. By depending on more and more batteries, we give more and more power to China, leaving us more and more vulnerable

The only way more electric will really have a serious impact on reduced emissions is when we also include nuclear. Without nuclear it is just NOT REALITY

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Response to NNadir (Original post)

Sat May 29, 2021, 09:01 AM

7. "Planet of the Humans", EP'd by Michael Moore, addresses a lot of these issues.

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Response to TheRickles (Reply #7)

Sat May 29, 2021, 09:02 AM

8. I have little use for Michael Moore. He's a very simplistic fool. n/t.

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Response to NNadir (Reply #8)

Sat May 29, 2021, 09:29 AM

11. And I guess that POV saves you the time and energy that you'd lose if you

checked out this source of possibly interesting and relevant info. I've always thought of myself as a green environmentalist, but I learned a lot from this contrarian film that makes many of the same points that you're making about the environmental costs of battery production.


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Response to NNadir (Original post)

Sat May 29, 2021, 09:10 AM

9. About the greenest we can go when it comes to mass transportation would probably be a rail system.

When combined with the power of nuclear reactors its probably the best we can do if we want to maintain our current level of technology until or unless some alternative source of high energy production is discovered which unfortunately is not wind and currently is not solar either.

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Response to cstanleytech (Reply #9)

Sat May 29, 2021, 10:00 AM

15. Well, it certainly would be "greener."

I have been considering these systems for a very long time. No energy system will be without risk; the best we can do is to use combinatorial optimization techniques to minimize risk and environmental impact.

For the last five or ten years, I've spent a lot of time looking at papers about heat networks, and mused about them on my own.

Not to find myself endorsing the silly ideologies of Amory Lovins, chief "scientist" at the Rocky Mountain Institute located in bourgeois heaven, Aspen, Colorado, represented in Congress by that great intellectual, Loren Bobbitt, there is a lot to be said for high energy efficiency.

Lovins, being a fool with his head up his consumerist ass, thinks that the outcome of efficiency would be to reduce the use of energy. He has apparently never heard of Jevons Paradox, or if he has, is in simple denial about its reality. To me, the use of highly efficient energy systems relying on heat networks is not to reduce the use of energy, but to increase it, with the goal of extending it to those who have no or very limited access to it.

It is experimentally observed, generally, that nations with the lowest birth rates, some even under replacement value, are precisely those where people feel secure in their homes, have sufficient food, high levels of education, and political stability.

Poverty is very much an environmental issue.

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Response to NNadir (Original post)

Sat May 29, 2021, 09:26 AM

10. K and R

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Response to NNadir (Original post)

Sat May 29, 2021, 09:34 AM

12. We need to realize that when we change energy infrastructures...

...from one form to another (such as gas cars to electric cars) materials requirements & waste products don't magically disappear, they just change form. We still need materials, we just need different materials. We still have waste products, just different waste products.

For a transformation process to be truly successful it must take that into account, otherwise we're trading off one set of problems for another set of problems. Now, granted, the new set of problems may be smaller & easier to mitigate than the old set of problems, & that can be regarded as progress & improvement, & it can make the transformation worthwhile, but it still presents new problems that must be dealt with.

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Response to NNadir (Original post)

Sat May 29, 2021, 09:35 AM

13. Hydrogen

is the answer. Hydrogen fuel cells are about 95% efficient. Hydrolyzers are improving in efficiency at a rapid pace. What about storage? A research institute in Dresden, Germany, has developed hydrogen paste. It’s created by mixing magnesium and hydrogen, along with a small amounts of a couple other chemicals, at moderately high temperatures. The paste is then mixed with water to release the hydrogen. The paste has the consistency of a watery toothpaste.

So how do we generate the hydrogen? Electrolysis using green electricity.

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Response to MarcoZandrini (Reply #13)

Sat May 29, 2021, 09:49 AM

14. It is decidedly NOT the answer.

I'm an old man. I've been hearing this handwaving nonsense since I was a kid.

Hydrogen is not a primary source of energy, and as such is simply an energy storage device, subject to the second law of thermodynamics which demands that any form of storage of energy wastes energy.

In particular, popular fantasies that have been repeated for more than a century aside, electricity is a severely thermodynamically degraded form of energy. Electrolysis is only acceptable under very limited conditions, specifically connected with a place to put chlorine gas permanently. Organochlorines, I might add, represent some of the most intractable waste problems the world has encountered. We are nowhere close to addressing this problem, although it is well known that radiolysis can help.

The mass requirements for German electricity are obscene. The entire German energy policy - which does nothing more than deepen permanent dependence on dangerous fossil fuels is obscene. It's appalling that the nation that gave a home to Hilbert, to Planck, to Sommerfeld, to Heisenberg, to Born, has chosen to endorse an energy program that offends the laws of thermodynamics.

All this said, direct thermochemical hydrogen schemes, involving very high temperatures, such as the famous (among scientists) sulfur iodine cycle, variants thereof, can raise the exergy obtained from high temperature systems, but these are only being investigated on pilot scale in China.

Any attempt to utilize hydrogen as a consumer fuel will fail. However hydrogen is a very useful industrial captive intermediate. As of 2021, after many decades of mumbling about it, more than 98% of the hydrogen generated industrially on this planet is generated by the reformation of dangerous natural gas.

That's a fact. Facts matter.

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Response to MarcoZandrini (Reply #13)

Sat May 29, 2021, 10:42 AM

16. The electric grid has to produce more power than necessary at any one time.

This excess could be used to produce hydrogen and fed back to the grid when needed. The hydrogen producing equipment could act as a "capacitor" to store what isn't instantaneously needed. A lot of power is wasted in standby mode. Just a thought. It'd never happen.

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Response to NNadir (Original post)

Sat May 29, 2021, 11:45 AM

17. Thank you for making us think about the full energy system.

I am constantly perplexed that -- at least where I live -- infrastructure (bike lanes) is not more on the front burner. There is almost no day of the year I couldn't ride a bike for most daily trips like the grocery store, but it is too risky to put myself on the road with drivers who are not paying proper attention to other cars, much less a bike. If I worked I could ride a bike to the transit center and take mass transit (I'm retired).

Bikes also mean we get exercise, another thing sorely needed by society.

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