Rising environmental concerns and energy resource constraints have led to increased demand for development of reliable and cost-effective electric vehicles (EVs). Technological forecasts have predicted widespread diffusion of electric-drive vehicles in the future, both in the U.S. and globally. These forecasts also suggest a large scale consumption of lithium-ion batteries to power these vehicles. Several studies have been conducted recently to examine supply-side lithium constraints due to EV deployment as well as the lifecycle environmental impacts of EV lithium ion battery production. However, less attention has been focused on potential wastes that may be generated when these vehicles and/or batteries reach the end of their life and the resultant environmental and health implications of managing this new waste stream.
As a proactive step towards understanding future waste management challenges, a future oriented material flow analysis (MFA) was used to estimate the volume of lithium-ion battery wastes to be potentially generated in the United States due to EV deployment in the near and long term future. Because future adoption of battery and EV technology is uncertain, a range of scenarios were developed to bound the parameters most influential to the MFA model, which was parameterized using technology forecasts, technical literature, and bench-scale. This presentation will highlight results that characterize the potential volume and material composition of this future waste stream. Notably, only 42% of the expected materials (by weight) are currently recycled in the U.S., including metals such as aluminum, cobalt, copper, nickel, steel and iron. Another 10% of the projected EV battery waste stream (by weight) includes two high value materials which are currently not recycled at a significant rate: lithium and manganese. The remaining fraction of this waste stream will include materials with low recycling potential currently, for which safe disposal routes must be identified. Results also indicate that because of the potential “lifespan mismatch” between the LIB packs and the vehicles in which they are used, batteries with high reuse potential may also be entering the waste stream. As such, a robust end of life battery management system must include an increase in reuse avenues, expanded recycling capacity, and ultimate disposal routes that minimize risk to human and environmental health.
Callie Babbitt is an assistant professor in the Golisano Institute for Sustainability at RIT. Her work focuses on developing and applying tools to understand and manage the life cycle implications of emerging technologies. Specific focal areas are consumer electronics, nanomaterials, photovoltaics, and lithium ion batteries. These sectors represent complex sustainability challenges, as they are characterized by rapid development, adoption, and evolution; high potential for environmental impact across all life cycle stages; and a lack of comprehensive data that can be used to accurately quantify potential environmental impact. As a result, it is a nontrivial exercise to simply apply existing industrial ecology tools like life cycle assessment (LCA) or heuristical design for environment (DfE). Instead, these complex systems require new frameworks, tools, and methods that provide meaningful policy- and practice-relevant results and are adaptive to the unique challenges mentioned above. She is particularly interested in new industrial ecology models inspired by or adapted from biological ecology.