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The flip side of EV

Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Thursday, 16 November 2017 00:08

Budget 2018 has good news for the environment. Key proposals introduced plans to phase out all fossil fuelled vehicles by 2040 and replace them with electric vehicles. Indeed the Government will be fast tracking this process by providing tax concessions of Rs. 1 million for new car imports and providing concessions for electric buses and three-wheelers. The new transport age has arrived but it comes at a cost. 

Industry experts predict that the first round of batteries will be ready for disposal in Sri Lanka in 2018 with numbers expected to progressively increase over the next decade. How can Sri Lanka deal with the wastage of both hybrid and electric vehicles? Many countries around the world are taking several measures with some opting to put the responsibility of recycling on car manufacturers themselves or encourage investment in third- party recycling plants. 

In the US many electric car companies such as Tesla, Nissan and Toyota are linking up with other companies to reuse batteries as they can still store large amounts of power even when they are partially discharged. One option is to up-cycle batteries from electric cars to store power from wind turbines and other renewable energy plants. This would give a longer lifecycle for the batteries but still leaves the question of where they will end up unanswered.  

Shoebox-size, lead-acid batteries have powered ignition and lighting in gasoline- or diesel-powered cars for decades. They already are widely recycled, mainly because lead is such a health hazard. The batteries for hybrid and all-electric cars are far more powerful and much larger, with some weighing up to around 250 kilograms, or 550 pounds. They also can be the car’s most expensive component, mostly because of the complexity in making them, rather than the value of the materials.

Companies that fail to plan for recycling face “brand damage” at the very least, as well as potential fines and legal action if the batteries end up being illegally incinerated or dumped in landfills. In many cases, automakers will be responsible for final disposal of the batteries — even if they did not actually manufacture them — because of stricter laws governing recycling, especially in Europe. Sri Lanka could take this route and call on the car manufacturers to do their part.  

Car companies themselves need to focus more on this issue because measures such as standardizing production could also make batteries easier to recycle. Given their sheer size, batteries cannot be stored at home and landfilling is not an option. Moreover recycling or retrieving materials such as lithium make little economic sense and as such companies are unlikely to invest money in the effort. However, long term unless these resources are reused in some way the finite availability of raw materials makes these types of vehicles unsustainable.  

This is in no way a justification for the continued use of fuel guzzling conventional vehicles. But the effort to be green comes with challenges that the world is still figuring out. Being aware of the problems is one way to be part of early solutions. 

A company called Aceleron, recognised by Forbes as one of the 30 most exciting hi-tech startups in Europe, is looking for investors to help it roll out pilot projects to re-package batteries to store power for households. Sri Lanka’s private sector could also look at new areas of similar investment to tap into such ventures that will have massive demand in the future.

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