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

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

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

Within the yea and nay tussle over trendy e-bikes, considerations 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 adequate electrical cost? The origin of uncooked supplies that make up the batteries in all of our varied path toys is a respectable concern, so we requested some {industry} professionals the place all of it comes from, and what we are able to do as soon as it turns into “waste.”

Like most digital gadgets made at the moment, e-bikes and GPS computer systems alike use lithium-ion batteries. In accordance with 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 could be extra typical. A lead-acid battery can retailer solely 25 watt-hours per kilogram. Utilizing lead-acid know-how, it takes 6 kilograms to retailer the identical quantity of vitality {that a} 1 kilogram lithium-ion battery can deal with.” So Lithium-based batteries will be lighter weight, which is a vital characteristic of almost any mountain bike product.

Whereas Chile and Bolivia reportedly maintain the biggest 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 essentially the most lithium each year. 4 of the opposite top-ten lithium producing mines are situated in Australia, and the ultimate ninth and tenth slots on the worldwide extraction listing 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 damaging results on the pure atmosphere and the individuals who dwell close to the huge extraction websites. In a single mining area of Chile, the place lithium is mined via a technique 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 accordance with a 2018 article from WIRED, “In Australia and North America, lithium is mined from rock utilizing extra conventional strategies, however nonetheless requires the usage of chemical substances with the intention 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, usually utilizing baby labor, with out protecting gear.” Roughly 65% of the world’s cobalt comes from The Democratic Republic of the Congo, the place exploitation runs rampant via the mining {industry}.

One other article published by the Guardian reported that numerous Congolese households have introduced go well with 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 corporations that profited from the labor of youngsters who have been pressured to work in harmful circumstances – circumstances that in the end led to death and critical harm.”

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

To study extra about what occurs, or can occur to lithium batteries as soon as they now not maintain a suitable cost, and the way house owners can lengthen the lifetime of their battery, we interviewed Jeff Haltrecht from Call2Recycle Canada (C2R). The Toronto based mostly recycling non-profit is working with e-bike and electrical automobile corporations, 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 fitting 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 the intention 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 via 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 combined alloy product, and the aluminum and lithium to slag. Using an electrical arc furnace will end in a lot of the lithium turned to a dust-like powder, from which it may simply be recovered. This course of has roughly a 50% restoration fee.

Whereas some will say Hydrometallurgy is superior, we nevertheless want not to decide on between them, as a substitute 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 may be one other one or two amenities within the early planning and growth stage that can come on-line between now and 2025.

Refurbishing will turn out to be an alternative 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 corporations working on this area now for EVs together with Massive Battery out of California and Spiers based mostly in Oklahoma, and over time, this sub-industry will develop.

What components of the battery are (or can turn out to be) poisonous, and is anybody working to exchange them?

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

Cobalt, nickel, aluminum, and manganese are widespread metals paired with lithium ions to create the chemistry within the battery, and when put collectively in the fitting combination, they’re virtually at all times in stability. 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 as a consequence of its greater 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 chance, Call2Recycle can 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 corporations taking to scale back the environmental and human impacts of manufacturing? 

We consider there are three strategic selections within the technique of being made by the {industry} that can assist scale back the environmental impression particularly, and the human impacts to a lesser diploma.  

  1. Decreasing or eradicating the usage of 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 are able to 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) lowered value of the battery pack, b) greater resale worth of the autos, and c) minimal impact on the atmosphere. And when mixed with a no-cobalt chemistry, a discount of the damaging results on creating nations, their communities and folks. Modern Amperex Know-how (additionally identified at CATL) introduced in June a 2M km battery5 and in accordance with Reuters it could be a Lithium Phosphate chemistry6.
  1. Recycling used EV batteries throughout the Continent (whether or not N.A., EU, Asia, or S.A) utilizing a hydrometallurgy course of that ends in as much as 95% restoration fee of pure metals. This can be utilized in making new cathodes that go into new battery cells, decreasing the necessity for extra mined metals.  

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

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

What are a few of the ways in which e-bike batteries have adopted traits within the electrical automobile 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), the usage of battery administration software program to maximise the lifetime of the battery, the connection of the batteries to the transmission and the usage of a display dashboard to tell the consumer. And in lots of instances, the identical corporations provide components and/or completed elements for each industries.

As battery life is prolonged for EVs over the approaching decade, so will life lengthen 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 lowering single-use automobile journeys or requiring much less public transit powered by diesel, and releasing up congestion. An EV then again 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 throughout 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 basic 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. totally 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 could possibly 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 automobile?’

Commercialized in 1991 by Sony3, lithium’s use and longevity proceed to be perfected. Keep in mind when it made its approach into laptops and cellphones? Its use in vehicles picked up acceptance when Tesla mixed fashion, 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 the complete transmission in 2010, and by our personal Call2Recycle forecast the USA will promote roughly 1.2M e-bikes in 2020, helped by conduct shifts as a consequence of COVID-19. That’s progress.

Lithium can be with us for this subsequent era of autos (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 appear to be?

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

In the USA, Call2Recycle may have each a pay-as-you-go fashion program the place recycling containers will be bought for a flat price together with the price of transport and recycling.  Bicycle retailers will be capable to order these individually. And the corporate will be capable to supply OEMs a community extensive 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 may be 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.

Better threat lies in not following the charging instructions, damaging the battery by dropping or attempting to change its regular state, or by putting within the rubbish which leads to a landfill hearth threat.

Lithion’s hydrometallurgy based mostly 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% better emissions versus an inside combustion engine car, nevertheless, that throughout the first 6-16 months of driving this can be offset by the decrease emissions from electrical propulsion. Over the lifespan of that car, we are going to see a 51% complete 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 autos comparable in worth to present bike and automobile choices which in flip will enhance adoption, and b) decreasing our impression on the atmosphere and cultures of the place the metals are mined.

Relating to 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 are going to construct a $1B (USD) facility in Northern Ontario that can use hydroelectric energy to scale back emissions and the usage of 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.

Have you learnt of regional or federal governments which can 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 the moment. On the Federal authorities stage, there’s a sturdy initiative underway for Canada to take part within the lithium battery {industry} from mining all the way in which to recycling.

In the USA federal regulation requires used nickel cadmium and lead batteries be recycled, which is great 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 throughout the coming yr which will require e-bike battery recycling.

The gathering, recycling, remedy, 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 house owners 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 consider there isn’t any excellent 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 automobile will supply 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 experience the identical distance and frequency as we did on a standard bike, the profit is just not there and can really be damaging when taking into consideration mining of the battery. Nonetheless, it seems the usage of e-bikes is increasing the demographic that’s biking and the utilization events. And if these journeys come from public transit and automobile use, then it is going to be optimistic to the atmosphere.

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

We wish to thank Jeff Haltrecht from Call2Recycle for sharing these insightful responses. Beneath is a listing of the assets that Haltrecht utilized in his responses.


  1. Lithium-Ion Battery Recycling Processes: Analysis in 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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