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How Sustainable are the Batteries in E-bikes and Other MTB Gadgets? We Asked a Battery Expert.

How Sustainable are the Batteries in E-bikes and Other MTB Gadgets? We Asked a Battery Expert. 2020-09-05Leave a comment

How Sustainable are the Batteries in E-bikes and Different MTB Devices? We Requested a Battery Skilled.

“Certain, I’m able to hit he path as quickly as my GPS watch, e-bike, earbuds, shifter, derailleur, seat publish, telephone, and headlamp are absolutely charged. Shouldn’t be lengthy.”

Within the yea and nay tussle over fashionable e-bikes, issues stay over the sustainable creation and recycling of their lithium batteries, simply because the case goes with electrical vehicles. The place does all of that lithium come from, and what can we do with it as soon as it now not holds a enough electrical cost? The origin of uncooked supplies that make up the batteries in all of our numerous path toys is a authentic concern, so we requested some {industry} professionals the place all of it comes from, and what we will do as soon as it turns into “waste.”

Like most digital gadgets made at present, e-bikes and GPS computer systems alike use lithium-ion batteries. In response to a tech article printed on How Stuff Works, ‘A typical lithium-ion battery can retailer 150 watt-hours of electrical energy in 1 kilogram of battery. A NiMH (nickel-metal hydride) battery pack can retailer maybe 100 watt-hours per kilogram, though 60 to 70 watt-hours is likely to be extra typical. A lead-acid battery can retailer solely 25 watt-hours per kilogram. Utilizing lead-acid expertise, it takes 6 kilograms to retailer the identical quantity of power {that a} 1 kilogram lithium-ion battery can deal with.” So Lithium-based batteries will be lighter weight, which is a necessary characteristic of almost any mountain bike product.

Whereas Chile and Bolivia reportedly maintain the most important deposits of lithium on earth, it’s the Sonora Lithium Mine in Sonora Mexico, Thacker Pass Lithium Project in Nevada, USA, and the Woodgina Lithium Project in Western Australia that produce probably the most lithium each year. 4 of the opposite top-ten lithium producing mines are positioned in Australia, and the ultimate ninth and tenth slots on the worldwide extraction record are taken by mines in Western Mali and close to the Zimbabwe capital of Harare, each owned by Australian mining companies.

Like most mineral and metallic extraction, mining lithium has detrimental results on the pure atmosphere and the individuals who reside close to the large extraction websites. In a single mining area of Chile, the place lithium is mined by a means of brine-water evaporation, mineral extraction has used up to 65% of the region’s clean water–vastly impacting vegetable and animal farms alike.

The chemical substances used to gather lithium right into a marketable kind, including hydrochloric acid, pollute adjoining water provides. In response to a 2018 article from WIRED, “In Australia and North America, lithium is mined from rock utilizing extra conventional strategies, however nonetheless requires using chemical substances with a purpose to extract it in a helpful kind. Analysis in Nevada discovered impacts on fish so far as 150 miles downstream from a lithium processing operation.”

Along with the environmental and social points round lithium extraction, cobalt and nickel are obligatory elements of the batteries in our digital gadgets, together with e-bikes. The identical WIRED article mentions that “The Congo is dwelling to ‘artisanal mines,’ the place cobalt is extracted from the bottom by hand, typically utilizing baby labor, with out protecting tools.” Roughly 65% of the world’s cobalt comes from The Democratic Republic of the Congo, the place exploitation runs rampant by the mining {industry}.

One other article published by the Guardian reported that a lot of Congolese households have introduced swimsuit in opposition to some main American tech companies for his or her involvement within the Congolese cobalt commerce. “The lawsuit argues that Apple, Google, Dell, Microsoft, and Tesla all aided and abetted the mining firms that profited from the labor of youngsters who had been compelled to work in harmful circumstances – circumstances that finally led to death and critical damage.”

In brief, the creation of batteries for our machines and gadgets needs to be changed by a much less environmentally and socially detrimental type of building. We may go on with examples of human rights abuses and ecosystem mistreatment for pages, however we have to additionally take a look at the flip-side of this controversial coin; recycling.

To be taught extra about what occurs, or can occur to lithium batteries as soon as they now not maintain a suitable cost, and the way homeowners can prolong the lifetime of their battery, we interviewed Jeff Haltrecht from Call2Recycle Canada (C2R). The Toronto primarily based recycling non-profit is working with e-bike and electrical automotive firms, in addition to municipalities, to create channels for lithium battery recycling.

How are e-bike batteries recycled, and is anybody working to enhance this course of?

Call2Recycle manages an elaborate community of battery assortment websites to get batteries out of the market and to the appropriate processor. They are going to be packed in UN-certified fire-retardant containers and shipped per Transport Canada pointers.

There are three strategies out there for processing eBike batteries1:

Direct recycling begins with dismantling and shredding of the cells and restoration of copper and aluminum. The objective is to retain the cathode crystal morphology with a purpose to remake a brand new cathode.

Hydrometallurgy additionally begins with dismantling and shredding of the cells and restoration of copper and aluminum. The remaining black mass of metals goes by a leaching course of that separates every metallic and returns them to the unique state with a 95% restoration fee.

Pyrometallurgy feeds battery packs and/or modules right into a furnace and sends the copper to a blended alloy product, and the aluminum and lithium to slag. Using an electrical arc furnace will end in many of the lithium turned to a dust-like powder, from which it might probably simply be recovered. This course of has roughly a 50% restoration fee.

Whereas some will say Hydrometallurgy is superior, we nevertheless desire not to decide on between them, as an alternative specializing in the geographic location of processors versus the place the batteries are coming from and making the hassle to scale back transportation distances of the batteries.

The main processors in North America embody Lithion (Hydrometallurgy), Li-Cycle (Hydrometallurgy), and Retriev (Pyrometallurgy). There’s one other one or two amenities within the early planning and growth stage that can come on-line between now and 2025.

Refurbishing will develop into another choice sooner or later, the place battery cells are recognized for good vs. dangerous after which good ones are rebuilt and bought on a market as beforehand used. There are just a few good firms working on this house now for EVs together with Large Battery out of California and Spiers primarily based in Oklahoma, and over time, this sub-industry will develop.

What components of the battery are (or can develop into) poisonous, and is anybody working to switch them?

Lithium primarily based chemistries have been perfected since their first invention in 19852 and industrial utility by Sony in 19913 to the purpose the place toxicity dangers are low, and usually, solely happen if and when a fireplace ensues.

Cobalt, nickel, aluminum, and manganese are frequent metals paired with lithium ions to create the chemistry within the battery, and when put collectively in the appropriate combination, they’re nearly all the time in steadiness. Dangers normally solely happen when the battery pack is broken inflicting a thermal occasion.

Using cobalt could also be decreased in coming years, however that is extra on account of its increased value of mining and environmental impression than it’s from the purpose of toxicity.

The 2 documented gases launched throughout a fireplace are hydrogen fluoride and phosphoryl fluoride2. To mitigate the danger, Call2Recycle might be utilizing CellblockFx hearth retardant for transporting broken, faulty, or recalled e-bike batteries. This product when heated melts and encapsulates the battery and its fumes.

What steps are battery firms taking to scale back the environmental and human impacts of manufacturing? 

We imagine there are three strategic choices within the means of being made by the {industry} that can assist scale back the environmental impression specifically, and the human impacts to a lesser diploma.  

  1. Decreasing or eradicating using cobalt within the lithium-based chemistries because it’s reported as much as 65% of a city’s water will be diverted to the mine vs. the individuals4. Nickel, manganese, and cobalt are an excellent efficiency mixture when mixed with lithium, nevertheless, we will additionally use aluminum within the chemistry or go to a lithium-ion phosphate chemistry.
  1. Battery producers are working diligently to increase the lifetime of the battery which would require fewer metals to be mined.  The advantages are many: a) diminished value of the battery pack, b) increased resale worth of the automobiles, and c) minimal impact on the atmosphere. And when mixed with a no-cobalt chemistry, a discount of the detrimental results on growing nations, their communities and folks. Up to date Amperex Know-how (additionally identified at CATL) introduced in June a 2M km battery5 and in accordance with Reuters it might be a Lithium Phosphate chemistry6.
  1. Recycling used EV batteries inside the Continent (whether or not N.A., EU, Asia, or S.A) utilizing a hydrometallurgy course of that leads to as much as 95% restoration fee of pure metals. This might be utilized in making new cathodes that go into new battery cells, lowering the necessity for extra mined metals.  

Which e-bike firms are you at present working with to get extra of their batteries recycled?

We’re working from an inventory of 80+ e-bike firms as we set up this battery recycling program in Canada. As of at present firms with unit market share quantity including as much as roughly 70% have dedicated to being part of this system and we anticipate this may get nearer to 85% by the point we begin January 1, 2021.

What are among the ways in which e-bike batteries have adopted tendencies within the electrical automotive market? 

The 2 industries are very a lot associated beginning with the minerals that make up the battery chemistry (nickel, manganese, and cobalt paired with lithium), the dimensions of cylindrical cans (ex:18650 measurement), using battery administration software program to maximise the lifetime of the battery, the connection of the batteries to the transmission and using a display screen dashboard to tell the consumer. And in lots of instances, the identical firms provide components and/or completed elements for each industries.

As battery life is prolonged for EVs over the approaching decade, so will life prolong for e-bikes.

The place issues differ is in utilization alternative. Electrical-bikes are an alternate type of transportation when in comparison with public transit, car-pooling, or vehicles. [They increase] the variety of commuters utilizing electrified transportation whereas reducing single-use automotive journeys or requiring much less public transit powered by diesel, and liberating up congestion. An EV however is a swap from an inside combustion engine car – normally a one for one. That is optimistic for the atmosphere, nevertheless nonetheless not good for congestion in cities.

Are there methods customers could make their batteries last more?

The good information about extending battery life lies inside the battery’s software program. Most are programmed to cost between 80% and 90% of capability and drain to 60% of capability. This candy zone maximizes the variety of recharge cycles the battery can deal with earlier than it now not holds sufficient energy to get you to the vacation spot.

Begin by following instructions supplied by the bike’s battery provider as they understand how the software program performs. Different common pointers embody7:

  • Keep away from parking bike in direct daylight, even for brief intervals of time 
  • Storing the battery at temperatures between 0 and 20 deg C. when not in use. Keep away from temperatures under -10° C (14°F) and above 30° C (86°F), as they shorten battery life.
  • Retailer for extended intervals between 30% and 60% cost (vs. absolutely charged)
  • Deal with with nice care, together with not dropping, forcing the battery pack open, or tampering with the wiring and software program.

Are there methods batteries might be designed to last more?

Return 10 years and this was not even a subject; in a brief span the dialog has gone from ‘Is lithium higher than NiMH?’ to ‘Can lithium take us 1,000,000 miles in a automotive?’

Commercialized in 1991 by Sony3, lithium’s use and longevity proceed to be perfected. Keep in mind when it made its means into laptops and cellphones? Its use in vehicles picked up acceptance when Tesla mixed type, environmental advantages, and long-distance drives with the 2008 introduction of its roadster. Yamaha has been constructing e-bike motors since 1993 and Bosch introduced their automotive experience to all the transmission in 2010, and by our personal Call2Recycle forecast the US will promote roughly 1.2M e-bikes in 2020, helped by habits shifts on account of COVID-19. That’s progress.

Lithium might be with us for this subsequent technology of automobiles (bikes and vehicles) because of the quantity of capital funding within the design and the power to push the chemistry and battery administration software program additional.

Batteries are all over the place.

What does the 5-15 yr trajectory towards e-bike battery recycling seem like?

Very wholesome! January 1, 2021 the Canadian eBike battery recycling program begins the place customers can convey batteries again to assortment websites – lots of which might be bicycle retailers – for recycling. The batteries might be processed and made into different shopper merchandise and finally into new batteries.

In the US, Call2Recycle could have each a pay-as-you-go type program the place recycling containers will be bought for a flat charge together with the price of transport and recycling.  Bicycle retailers will be capable to order these individually. And the corporate will be capable to provide OEMs a community huge resolution as properly.

Corporations like Bebat out of Belgium and GRS in Germany have related initiatives for the European market, and in some cases extra superior than what traditionally was out there in North America.

What are the dangers concerned in recycling lithium batteries? 

There’s minimal threat in recycling as the method de-charges the battery and returns the metals to pure kind at between a 50% and 95% restoration fee for pyrometallurgy and hydrometallurgy processes respectively.

Higher threat lies in not following the charging instructions, damaging the battery by dropping or attempting to change its regular state, or by inserting within the rubbish which ends up in a landfill hearth threat.

Lithion’s hydrometallurgy primarily based course of permits 95% of li-ion battery elements to be recycled. Picture: Lithion

What can battery producers do to learn the cultures and economies the place lithium is extracted? 

The evaluation reveals that producing an electrical car will end in 15% higher emissions versus an inside combustion engine car, nevertheless, that inside the first 6-16 months of driving this might be offset by the decrease emissions from electrical propulsion. Over the lifespan of that car, we are going to see a 51% whole discount in emissions (manufacturing included).7

So we should proceed and focus our efforts on two equal objectives:  a) value discount for creating the battery, making the automobiles comparable in value to present bike and automotive choices which in flip will enhance adoption, and b) lowering our impression on the atmosphere and cultures of the place the metals are mined.

Concerning the latter, this well timed instance of Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, pledging a contract to miners who can mine nickel in an environmentally delicate method has introduced ahead a dedication by Canada Nickel Co. They’ll construct a $1B (USD) facility in Northern Ontario that can use hydroelectric energy to scale back emissions and using serpentine rock that naturally absorbs carbon dioxide when uncovered to air.8

Not solely is the {industry} pondering in these phrases, however so is authorities. Whether or not it’s the EU’s battery initiative or the Canadian Federal Authorities’s mandate to have a North American end-to-end resolution, there are individuals engaged on this proper now.

They’re even in just a few dropper posts.

Are you aware of regional or federal governments which might be working to implement lithium battery recycling?

The Canadian provinces of PEI, Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and British Columbia have battery recycling rules in place that e-bike, eScooters, eSkateboard, and hoverboard batteries would fall inside at present. On the Federal authorities stage, there’s a robust initiative underway for Canada to take part within the lithium battery {industry} from mining all the best way to recycling.

In the US federal regulation requires used nickel cadmium and lead batteries be recycled, which is superb nevertheless it doesn’t assist the e-bike {industry} because the latter makes use of lithium and nickel metallic hydride chemistries. At a State stage is the place we are going to discover additional necessities governing rechargeable battery recycling with States like Vermont, Minnesota, and New York main by instance.  We perceive California will start writing laws inside the coming yr that will require e-bike battery recycling.

The gathering, recycling, therapy, and disposal of batteries within the European Union are ruled by Directive 2006/66/EC, also referred to as the battery directive. E-bike batteries fall inside this directive requiring OEMs/model homeowners to be chargeable for the batteries they placed on market by funding the suitable take-back and recycling initiative.9

Are there extra sustainable alternate options to lithium batteries? 

We imagine there isn’t a good resolution. It’s actually a balancing act between discovering a cleaner technique of propulsion, which lithium batteries are, and the environmental and social impression of getting the minerals out of the bottom.

If a lithium battery that propels a automotive will provide a 51% discount in emissions over its life span, that’s a optimistic change to for the atmosphere.9

For an e-bike, if all we do is journey the identical distance and frequency as we did on a standard bike, the profit will not be there and can truly be detrimental when making an allowance for mining of the battery. Nonetheless, it seems using e-bikes is increasing the demographic that’s biking and the utilization events. And if these journeys come from public transit and automotive use, then will probably be optimistic to the atmosphere.

Sadly, there’s no battery for maintaining the bike upright.

We want to thank Jeff Haltrecht from Call2Recycle for sharing these insightful responses. Under is an inventory of the assets that Haltrecht utilized in his responses.


  1. Lithium-Ion Battery Recycling Processes: Analysis in the direction of a Sustainable Course by Linda Gaines, 1 Argonne Nationwide Laboratory, 9700 South Cass Avenue, Argonne, IL 60439, United States
  2. Science Each day :  https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/10/191009082508.htm
  3. Wikipedia :  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lithium-ion_battery#cite_note-NAE-13 which additionally references the Nationwide Academy of Engineering
  4. Wired, printed 2018.  Reference by Nature, November 6, 2019
  5. Bloomberg:  https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-06-07/a-million-mile-battery-from-china-could-power-your-electric-car?utm_campaign=news&utm_medium=bd&utm_source=applenews
  6. Reuters:  https://www.reuters.com/article/us-autos-tesla-batteries-exclusive/exclusive-teslas-secret-batteries-aim-to-rework-the-math-for-electric-cars-and-the-grid-idUSKBN22Q1WC
  7. UCS USA:  https://www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/attach/2015/11/Cleaner-Cars-from-Cradle-to-Grave-full-report.pdf#page=13
  8. Bloomberg:  https://www.bnnbloomberg.ca/canadian-miner-answers-elon-musk-s-plea-for-sustainable-nickel-1.1471252
  9. Bike EU :  https://www.bike-eu.com/laws-regulations/artikel/2010/08/eu-regulations-for-e-bikes-pedelecs-part-6-battery-directive-1018838
  10. Nature:  https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-017-09784-z
  11. Bosch:  The eBike Battery Information 2020, pages 24-25 and 28-29

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