How Toxic are Electric Car Batteries?

Electric vehicles have become more popular and are slowly taking over the car market. Alongside the pioneer, Tesla, other car companies have started working on producing their electric cars with the promise to discontinue traditional gas vehicles.

How Toxic are Electric Car Batteries?

Electric cars use lithium batteries, making them highly toxic. These batteries work as advanced technology and use lithium ions as the main component in the battery’s functioning and electrochemistry.

Lithium-ion batteries are different from traditional batteries. They are rechargeable, have a greater energy capacity which means that they are more powerful than the average batteries, and can hold a single charge for a longer period, meaning that they have a longer discharge rate.

Apart from electric vehicles, lithium-ion batteries are also stored in portable devices like smartphones and laptops and are also used in aerospace and military works.

The problem with lithium batteries is that even though electric cars use their batteries and they have a range of advantages, there is no way to dispose of them. Usually, in a battery recycling plant, the battery parts are destroyed with the help of a powder.

A mechanical shredder is used for this purpose. After being shredded, the batteries are melted or put into acid so that they can be dissolved.

However, destroying lithium batteries is not as easy. This is what makes electric cars toxic.

Everything You Need to Know about Electric Car Batteries in the United States

Several components come together to form lithium batteries and help an electric car battery function. The metal cathode attracts electrons. An anode or an electrode allows electrons to make their way into the external circuit). An electrolyte is a component that acts as a pathway between the cathode and anode. Then, there’s a separator.

Other elements also help form lithium batteries. These include cobalt, iron, manganese, and nickel. Out of these elements, cobalt is extremely hazardous.

Since the components used to form a lithium battery are so complex, they must be disassembled by hand. This is a crucial step so that the battery does not explode. However, even when dismantled manually, the battery is still highly likely combustible.

Because recycling takes so much effort, only 5 percent of the batteries make it through the recycling process, while the rest make their way to dumpsters. In fact, research shows that only 1 percent of these batteries get recycled within the US as opposed to the remaining 99 percent of batteries. Moreover, recycling lithium batteries is more expensive than producing new ones, so the incentive is also less.

So, if electric car batteries are not disposed of properly, they can destroy the environment, and if they are not stored properly, they can cause explosions.

Since electric vehicles use lithium-ion batteries, eventually, all the batteries will complete their working life and be left to be disposed of, polluting the environment. The challenge today is learning to lower the amount of environmental pollution and encourage people to be sustainable.

We must keep in mind how big the international market for electric vehicles is and how more and more companies are starting to develop electric car batteries in the US. Hence, it is important to find ways to recycle the waste of these batteries so that everyone can make a global effort to lower the production of greenhouse gases. This will help improve the air quality across the globe without affecting the needs of consumers.

Globally, three kinds of batteries are used in electric vehicles- nickel-metal hybrid batteries, lead-acid batteries, and lithium batteries. Lithium batteries are the most commonly used in electric vehicles as they help provide electricity.

These batteries were first invented at the end of the 20th century, and by the early 2000s, different power automobiles were using them on a daily basis. However, conventional fuel vehicles have been around for more than 100 years, which is why research on electric car batteries is still scarce.

Estimates show that by 2025, there will be 11 million tons of lithium battery waste, and countries across the world will not know what to do. If we want to control climate change, it is important that we come up with a game plan and use battery resources in a way that avoids pollution and does not cause toxic waste to flood the environment.

If we cannot get rid of lithium batteries properly, the damage to the environment, as well as human beings, will be massive. A single damaged electric car battery produces loads of heat and eventually leads to a fire, which then releases toxic gases. Waste batteries and massive concentrations of lithium can damage our nervous system, which can be carried on for generations.

In this article, we will analyze how toxic electric car batteries are, their disadvantages, and how they affect humans and the environment.

What Makes Lithium Batteries Dangerous?

Loads of resources are required to mine the metals needed to make lithium batteries. In fact, to make a single ton of batteries, 500,000 gallons of water are required.

The process of mining for the parts of lithium batteries is extremely toxic to human health. One of the metals used to make electric car batteries, metal cobalt, is known to be the most dangerous.

An interesting fact to note is that most cobalt mining- approximately two-thirds of the entire world’s supply- is performed in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Over the years, many human rights activists have raised their voices against the protection of labor, especially children, which mine cobalt as this metal is known to be extremely toxic.

Moreover, the mining process has also affected lithium miles in Chile. Lithium mining has caused an increase in droughts, higher temperatures, and loss of vegetation.

The Effect of Electric Car Batteries on the Environment

In 2016, a toxic chemical was leaked into the Liqi River from a lithium mine, which caused numerous fish to die. Cows and other livestock were also found dead after they consumed contaminated water from the river.

This was the third incident caused by a rise in lithium mining activity in seven years. Even though officials shut down all activities in 2013, when they reopened the mine in 2016, fish started to die again.

Between 2016 and 2018, lithium prices doubled because of the growing demand. In fact, it was also during this time that electric cars were becoming more popular as governments aimed to encourage people to invest in them.

In 2027, it is expected that the lithium battery industry will grow from 100 gigawatts to 800-gigawatt hours of yearly production. Consider this- there are 12 kilograms of lithium in a single Tesla Model S battery. Given the production of electric cars per year, imagine how many lithium batteries are being produced.

How Eco-Friendly Are Electric Car Batteries?

Electric car batteries are not eco-friendly at all. Even though electric cars may be fundamentally safe, the problem arises when you get into an accident in them. When these cars are exposed to high temperatures or something goes through the battery wall, the battery becomes toxic. Because a lot of energy is stored in a confined space, this energy tries its best to get released.

Hence, the battery starts to overheat, which will cause an internal short circuit. Due to the electricity, heat will get generated, which can cause a chemical reaction. This reaction will, in turn, generate more heat. This becomes a toxic cycle known as thermal runaway. If not dealt with immediately, it can result in fires and explosions.

If an electric vehicle catches fire, many chemicals are produced. This includes some extremely toxic gases like hydrogen cyanide and carbon monoxide, which are terrible for the environment and human health. This makes electric car batteries extremely toxic.

Moreover, lithium batteries cause damage to human health and the aquatic and terrestrial environment. Lithium accumulates in trees and plants, damaging their development and growth when it finds its way into the water. A small amount of lithium can completely damage the growth of sunflowers and corn.

If animals consume plants and foods that have lithium in them, they will get extremely sick. An experiment proved this on rats- they received small doses of lithium for seven weeks.

By the end of the study, their renal tissue was damaged, along with the glomerular and cartilage area. If consumed at higher concentrations, lithium can also damage human health. It can destroy the nervous system, kidney function, and endocrine system.

It has been found that even though electric cars can reduce your carbon footprint, batteries are more harmful to human health than traditional vehicles. This is because the batteries release a pollutant known as Electromagnetic Field Radiation (EMF).

We can conclude that over time, exposure to this radiation can cause severe health disadvantages. Neurological effects, behavioral issues, and health disorders have been reported so far.

How Electric Car Batteries Damage the Environment

Even though electric vehicles are essentially safe, they become dangerous when the battery is damaged. When the battery is exposed to high temperatures or if something goes through the wall of the battery, you are at risk.

This is because a large chunk of energy is stored in a small space the battery is trying to release. Hence, if the battery overheats or some power penetrates the battery case, there will be an internal short circuit.

Joule heating will occur because of this short circuit, which is when electricity generates heat and the battery cannot get rid of the heat as fast as heat is being generated. This causes a chemical reaction that produces more heat and a vicious cycle. This process is called a thermal runaway and can lead to fires and explosions.

If an electric vehicle starts a fire, 100 different chemicals are produced, including some toxic gases that are deadly to the environment and humans. Furthermore, if these electric vehicles are transported, they will damage the environment and lead to air pollution worldwide.

How Electric Car Batteries Damage the Organism

Internal combustion engine vehicles can cause NOx emissions and highly damage human health. Lithium causes loads of damage to the aquatic and terrestrial environment. In fact, even the tiniest amounts of lithium have high inhibitory effects on the growth and proliferation of aquatic life.

Moreover, when lithium makes its way to water which is then used to water plants, plant development, and growth are affected. Did you know that 60 mmol/l of lithium can derange the growth of sunflowers? The same amount of lithium also interferes with the growth of corn. Animals can consume lithium through their food chain, damaging their internal systems.

If humans end up consuming lithium, their nervous system, kidneys, and endocrine system can be affected.

How Toxic are Electric Car Batteries?
How Toxic are Electric Car Batteries?

What is the Solution?

It has been found that sodium-ion batteries (SIB) are the next-best alternatives to lithium batteries. Their composition matches that of lithium batteries, and we are confident that the environment will largely benefit if electric cars replace their current batteries with these.

The best part is that sodium can be found easily compared to lithium and is much cheaper, especially in South America. Moreover, it matches the performance of lithium batteries. So you do not have to worry about their performance. Since they are significantly less flammable, they are more efficient without posing a bigger risk to our entire existence.

Even though SIB come with some disadvantages, they are much safer than lithium batteries and will not damage the environment. The only struggle is to help electric car companies adopt this change which can only be done with the government’s help.

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