A new report published by Greenpeace East Asia shows that repurposing the lithium-ion batteries decommissioned from electric vehicles (EVs) could meet the entire world’s energy storage needs as early as 2030, solving “a billion dollar, billion-ton-of-carbon dioxide question.”
Greenpeace East Asia published its findings in a new report on Friday, detailing the potential impact that growing EV sales will have on global mineral supplies for lithium-ion batteries.
The report finds that there are critical supply risks for lithium and cobalt which could severely impact not only the manufacturing of necessary batteries, but dramatically impact the economies of China, Japan, and South Korea, who manufacture 85% of the world’s EV batteries and rely heavily on raw material imports.
The report identifies the need to begin a more concerted campaign of repurposing EV lithium-ion batteries into other industries to meet the growing demand for battery storage.
According to the report, and assuming that an EV battery’s lifespan is between five to eight years and retains 80% of its usable energy capacity, Greenpeace East Asia calculates that the total weight of retired batteries in the world between 2021 and 2030 will measure out to around 12.85 million tonnes – comparable to the weight of 1,285 Eiffel Towers.
During the same period, in an effort to meet increasing battery demand, the report estimates that 10.35 million tonnes of lithium, cobalt, nickel, and manganese will be mined. This will lead to global battery production lithium use 29.7-times higher than it was in 2018. Further, between 2021 and 2030, battery production will spend 30% of the world’s proven cobalt reserves.
On the flip side, repurposing decommissioned EV batteries could have significant benefits, especially given the sheer number of batteries which are soon to be decommissioned.
With so many retired EV batteries, it is little surprise, then, that the report also concludes that repurposed EV batteries could cover all global demand for energy storage in 2030, calculated to be around 368GWh of capacity.
The economic case is similarly strong, with the report concluding that the total value of repurposed EV batteries from global passenger cars could reach as much as $US15 billion in 2030.
The environmental case adds further weight to the argument, with the report calculating that, between 2021 and 2030, compared to manufacturing the same amount of new batteries, repurposing decommissioned EV batteries could reduce carbon emissions by over 63.34 million tonnes – equal to the amount of carbon stored in a third of China’s entire forest coverage.
“We’re about to see a tidal wave of old EV batteries hit China,” said Greenpeace East Asia senior program manager Ada Kong. “How the government responds will have huge ramifications for Xi Jinping’s 2060 carbon neutral commitment.
“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.”
The report specified several key industries where decommissioned EV batteries could be used, including China’s 5G infrastructure, global data centres, and energy storage projects. For example, by 2025, the backup power systems for all of China’s 5G telecom stations could be supplied by repurposed batteries.
Remaining specifically in China, the report further highlighted that all these industries are part of China’s core policy initiatives, as is EV transportation, opening up the possibility for China to standardise battery components to compliment a potential circular economy.
“Repurposing is central to manufacturers’ responsibility to mitigate their carbon emissions,” Kong said.
“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.”
The findings of the new Greenpeace East Asia report lead into actions which need to be taken quickly, so as to make full benefit of the potential economic and environmental benefits of a circular battery economy.
Battery manufacturers need to implement 100% battery tracking and re-collection, while battery life cycle will need to become a core performance metric for product design, which will in turn emphasise standardisation and recyclability.
Government must join with private to support such a circular economy, and in China particularly, on its way to a 2060 carbon neutral commitment, policies need to be built in to EV deployment, energy storage, and new infrastructure.