China Urged to Get Creative With ‘Tidal Wave’ of Used EV Batteries
The entire world’s energy storage needs could be met as early as 2030 with repurposed lithium-ion batteries decommissioned from electric vehicles, finds a new research report by the nonprofit environmental group Greenpeace.
The report, "Endurance for Resources - Research Report on the Circular Economy Potential of New Energy Vehicle Battery in 2030," released in late October, addresses the need for development of a circular economy model, so that resources can be recycled, and the extraction of primary battery resources, such as lithium and cobalt, can be reduced.
”WE’RE ABOUT TO SEE A TIDAL WAVE OF OLD EV BATTERIES HIT CHINA,” SAID ADA KONG, SENIOR PROGRAM MANAGER WITH GREENPEACE EAST ASIA, THE OFFICE THAT AUTHORED THE NEW REPORT.
"How the government responds will have huge ramifications for Xi Jinping’s 2060 carbon neutral commitment,” she said.
Chinese President Xi Jinping told the United Nations General Assembly via a video link on September 22, 2020 during UN Climate Week, "We aim to have CO2 emissions peak before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060."
China is the world’s largest producer of the heat-trapping greenhouse gases, responsible for 28 percent of all global greenhouse gas emissions.
"State policy indicates EVs will play a central role in emissions reduction, and Beijing needs to account for the high emissions of EV manufacturing. What we do with this wave of old batteries is actually a billion dollar, billion-ton-of-carbon dioxide question," Kong said.
While EVs release few to zero emissions while in operation, battery manufacturing is carbon-intensive, considering all the mining, processing, transport, and manufacturing that goes into each battery.
Greenpeace East Asia sees an enormous market opportunity here, as EV sales surge and global lithium and cobalt supplies shrink, posing national and industry-wide supply risks, the report projects.
For this report, Greenpeace East Asia researchers calculated the EV industry’s mineral supply risks, reuse value, and the carbon offset potential of circular economies for lithium-ion batteries.
They found that 12.85 million tons of EV lithium-ion batteries will be removed from electric vehicles between 2021 and 2030.
Over the same time span, 10.35 million tons of lithium, cobalt, nickel, and manganese will be mined for use in manufacturing new batteries.
FROM 2021 TO 2030, BATTERY PRODUCTION WILL SPEND 30 PERCENT OF THE WORLD’S PROVEN COBALT RESERVES.
Projections show extraction of these important minerals will ramp up in the near and medium term. By 2030, global battery production lithium use will be 29.7 times higher than in 2018.
China, Japan, and South Korea manufacture 85 percent of the world’s EV batteries, relying on raw material imports. These countries are at risk of price and supply instability for these minerals, risks previously identified by electric auto manufacturers like Tesla.
The report calculates that repurposing EV batteries can save 63 million tons of carbon emissions from new battery manufacturing.
Going on to sing the praises of EV battery repurposing, the report says that 5G infrastructure, data centers, and energy storage will all benefit from repurposed lithium-ion batteries. By 2025, the backup power systems for all of China’s 5G telecom stations could be supplied by repurposed batteries.
These industries are all China's core state policy initiatives, as is EV transportation, which could enable the standardization of battery components necessary for circular economy. Batteries for shared e-bikes is another potential alternative use.
Six major manufacturers account for 72 percent of EV battery deployment: CATL, Panasonic, BYD, LG Chem, Guoxuan Hi-Tech, and Samsung SDI.
"Repurposing is central to manufacturers’ responsibility to mitigate their carbon emissions. High consumption and throw-away economies caused climate change and resource exploitation. To make EVs a sustainable solution, battery manufacturers and automotive companies have a social responsibility to support circular economies. And governments have a responsibility to mandate recycling and repurposing systems for EV batteries," Kong said.
Manufacturers need 100 percent battery tracking and re-collection, the report advises, while battery lifecycle extension demands product designs that incorporate standardization and recyclability.
Sources: Statement and report Greenpeace East Asia, statement China's President Xi Jinping UN Climate Week 2020