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Li-Ion Batteries Get Green Seal of Approval 69

Posted by samzenpus
from the earth-approved dept.
thecarchik writes "It is not an easy task to compare the environmental effects of battery powered cars to those caused by conventionally fueled automobiles. The degree to which manufacture, usage and disposal of the batteries used to store the necessary electrical energy are detrimental to the environment is not exactly known. Now, for the first time, a team of Empa scientists have made a detailed life cycle assessment (LCA) or ecobalance of lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries, in particular the chemically improved (i.e. more environmentally friendly) version of the ones most frequently used in electric vehicles. Researchers decided to find out for sure. They calculated the ecological footprints of electric cars fitted with Li-ion batteries, taking into account all possible relevant factors, from those associated with the production of individual parts all the way through to the scrapping of the vehicle and the disposal of the remains, including the operation of the vehicle during its lifetime."
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Li-Ion Batteries Get Green Seal of Approval

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  • by afidel (530433) on Wednesday September 01, 2010 @10:20PM (#33445272)
    It's a research group focused on bringing academic lab work to the commercial world, I can't imagine that they would possibly have any bias for new technologies =) I'm not saying their methods are flawed, but since there's no actual paper available just a press release I'll take it with a grain of NaCl until I can read their actual work. I've seen too many vendor TCO claims to be swayed without the detailed disclosure.
    • by aethogamous (935390) on Thursday September 02, 2010 @12:02AM (#33445892)

      ...but since there's no actual paper available...

      Link to the actually available paper: http://pubs.acs.org/doi/full/10.1021/es903729a [acs.org]

      • by afidel (530433)
        Thanks, well they assume a battery technology that's not commercially available, a maximum vehicle lifetime of 92k miles, a lithium extraction technology that's low energy but unlikely to scale to widespread usage of the lithium for transportation, and finally they don't take recycling into account but rather attribute all inputs to virgin materials. Still if you tweak the numbers towards a more realistic mix you still come out with battery powered vehicles being no worse than ICE unless the battery vehicle
        • by Rei (128717) on Thursday September 02, 2010 @04:04AM (#33446958) Homepage

          Um... huh?

          Thanks, well they assume a battery technology that's not commercially available

          Oh really? Then what are they putting in the Volt? Or the Leaf? LiMn2O4 is one of the most popular chemistries for EVs. Here, want to buy some? [ebay.com.sg]

          To be fair, their wording could have been clearer. Nickel and cobalt-based li-ions currently dominate the market. But LiMn2O4 absolutely are already out on the market, and have been for years. Their main competitor is LiFePO4. Both chemistries offer much better cycle life, stability, and power than traditional cathodes, at the cost of lower energy density. They used to be a lot more expensive, but their prices have been falling, and they'll probably be cheaper within the next few years.

          a maximum vehicle lifetime of 92k miles

          No, they assume a vehicle lifespan of 240,000 km (pgs 2 and 4). They assume two batteries used per vehicle over it's lifespan (one replacement) -- even though most upcoming mass-market EVs are being *warrantied* for 8-10 years.

          a lithium extraction technology that's low energy but unlikely to scale to widespread usage of the lithium for transportation

          Huh? What they describe is the standard way of producing lithium carbonate. And energy to produce a product generally declines as you scale up, rather than increasing. And the lithium extraction is only 1.9% of the battery's energy consumption anyway. The biggest chunk is aluminum, at 15.1%. So even if you have to jump to spodumene, like they mention (you wouldn't jump straight there, by the way -- you'd first use lithium hydroxide, like is found in Nevada), it would hardly change the picture.

          Lithium is just such a small part of the overall picture; the only reason people focus on it is it's in the name. As they make clear, it's the bulk metals (aluminum, copper, etc) and the roasting of the cathode that takes most of the energy of production.

          and finally they don't take recycling into account but rather attribute all inputs to virgin materials.

          They specifically note that recycling would *improve* the picture for BEVs (bottom of page 5 / top of page 6)

          Still if you tweak the numbers towards a more realistic mix you still come out with battery powered vehicles being no worse than ICE unless the battery vehicle is primarily powered by coal.

          Tweak nothing. That would take a complete rewrite with absurd bogus numbers to get a breakeven value. The comparison numbers aren't even close, and coal only increases the total energy 13.4% (page 4). BEVs blow ICEs away.

          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by s122604 (1018036)
            parent: I'm not a +1 type of guy, but hat's off to you, this post is complete ownage
  • by T Murphy (1054674) on Wednesday September 01, 2010 @10:27PM (#33445314) Journal
    Li-Ion batteries are in fact very bad for the environment: by reducing reliance upon fossil fuels, demand for fossil fuels drops, which reduces prices, which encourages future use, which reduces pressure to research green alternative energy sources, which ultimately means more pollution. Conclusion: drive a Hummer, it's the new green.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by DamienRBlack (1165691)
      I know you're being snarky, but first off, we're probably going to exhaust our entire supply of fossil fuels anyway, the question is just how quickly. Secondly, electric cars are still being powered by fossil fuels, for the most part anyway. Thirdly, any reduction in demand can be easily offset with tax schemes like cap-and-trade.
      • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        I dont think that this is actually effectively true (running out).

        Today's waste product is tomorrows fuel. It has happened repeatedly since we have been using fossil fuels. If you consider that the coal the drove the industrial revolution is effectively gone, yet we somehow come up with new coal you will realize that we are now using fuel that was once thought to be useless, and was considered a waste product. Oil will/is the same. New reserves are lower quality ( in a $ vs output sense ) that the middl

      • by Rockoon (1252108)

        we're probably going to exhaust our entire supply of fossil fuels anyway

        Do you put any thought at all into the statements you make?

        Perhaps you should learn about reality. Your first stop should be an economics class.

        • Thanks for your feedback but I have no idea what exactly you decided doesn't conform to reality. It would help if you provided a little more context for your side of the ... I'll call it an argument.

          Are you saying it is unlikely we run out because we have so much? Or are you saying it is not necessarily true that we'll run out and that we could easily be shifted away from such a path? Or are you saying that we won't run out because much of it isn't profitable enough to warrant extraction. Or are you going d

          • by arkenian (1560563)
            I think he's suggesting that the rules of supply and demand are such that the last drops of fossil fuels will be sufficiently expensive that we're unlikely to expend them. (At least, not by burning them -- I feel obliged to point out that of the many uses for petroleum, burning is by no means the most critical to society.) If so, this is a fairly ridiculous quibble. That is to say that while it is true that likely we never will expend the entire supply, we will certainly expend sufficient quantities of
      • Lithium peak (Score:3, Interesting)

        by OrangeTide (124937)

        When we hit the lithium peak, how will we make more Li-ion batteries?

        • When we hit the lithium peak, how will we make more Li-ion batteries?

          I guess we won't make more Li-ion batteries. But luckily there are plenty of other ways to store electricity -- many in development. We'll manage. Is that suppose to be some type of argument about why it is pointless to switch to renewable energy sources? If so, it doesn't really have much punch to it.

        • Re:Lithium peak (Score:5, Informative)

          by Rei (128717) on Wednesday September 01, 2010 @11:39PM (#33445732) Homepage
          • by Black Gold Alchemist (1747136) on Wednesday September 01, 2010 @11:40PM (#33445738)
            Peak lithium is a Li!
          • I dunno if it's actually cost effective (it might be cheaper to mine/extract 'new' lithium), but if need be, shouldn't the lithium in the battery be recylable? Batteries go bad, but it's not like the elemental lithium in the battery is destroyed through use (well, I'm not sure what the half-life of Lithium is, but since it doesn't seem to be a radiation hazard, I'm going to guess it has a nice long, stable half-life, so that means that it's not decaying into some other element in any time period we care abo

            • Stable means that no decay rate can be measured, which mean more than about 10^20 years (probably vastly more).

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by willy_me (212994)

        we're probably going to exhaust our entire supply of fossil fuels anyway

        Not before acidifying the ocean to the point that everything dies. The increased CO2 in the atmosphere would also destroy countless ecosystems and result in mass extinctions.

        Long story short, there is way too much carbon available to burn. We will kill ourselves long before we run out. Those who think governments should piss off and just let the market determine the price of oil really don't see the problem. As long as the environmental costs of oil are ignored, the market does not work to our benefi

        • by kmac06 (608921)
          Uh there's been a whole lot more CO2 in the air (and oceans) than there is now in the past. Amazingly, life survived.
          • That's an incredibly stupid thing to say.

            I mean, life survived asteroid impacts but I think it's in mankind's best interest to do anything possible to avoid such things.

            But that might just be me.

    • Li-Ion batteries are in fact very bad for the environment: by reducing reliance upon fossil fuels, demand for fossil fuels drops, which reduces prices, which encourages future use, which reduces pressure to research green alternative energy sources, which ultimately means more pollution.

              Your manifesto was excellent, by the way!

      • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Your manifesto was excellent, by the way!

        It left out the part about 'disgusting human babies' though, and didn't factor in the immigration pollution that Li-ion batteries promote.

  • Hasty Disposal (Score:3, Informative)

    by tirefire (724526) on Thursday September 02, 2010 @12:02AM (#33445894)

    One thing that bothers me about seeing Li-Ion battery-powered devices everywhere these days is the way so many people view them as disposable, when in reality the battery is good for hundreds of charge/discharge cycles, and the device for many times that number.

    Take for example the laptop I just bought secondhand today. It's a 2001 Gateway with a pentium 3 and the original li-ion battery. The battery is still capable of FOUR HOURS of constant web browsing and disk thrashing on a single charge. I paid $40 for this thing, and it performs just as well as any "netbook" for about 13% the price. My purchase was environment-agnostic, but if you don't want li-ion batteries going into landfills, finding ways to re-use them like I did is a good way to start.

    • Re:Hasty Disposal (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Cochonou (576531) on Thursday September 02, 2010 @12:53AM (#33446164) Homepage
      Are you sure this is the original battery ? My anecdotal evidence on a dozen of samples tells me that after about 6 years, most laptop Li-On batteries cannot hold charge anymore.
    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      One particular drawback to Li-ion batteries (of the type used in laptops) is that the battery degrades even when not being used. They degrade slower when lightly charged and stored at low temperature, but degrade much faster when near fully charged and/or warm.

      The common use pattern where a laptop is plugged in for significant periods of time will degrade Li-ion batteries faster than anything else. The battery will be lucky to last more than 12 months under such conditions. I'm on my third battery in thre

      • by Mascot (120795)

        but are not long-lived.

        I have a 3 year old laptop with no discernible difference in battery duration between now and when I bought it. Not saying there is none, from what I know there's no real way there couldn't be degradation, but it isn't yet enough to be noticeable on the odd occasion I do allow it to run until empty on battery.

        I have a netbook that's a couple of years old, same thing. No discernible change in battery longevity.

        I have an MP3/video player, bought in November 2007, no noticeable degradati

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Moridin42 (219670)

          You and I have very difference opinions on notable degradation. 80% of original capacity .. is huge.

          Under optimal conditions, Li batteries degrade just a few % per year. Under average conditions, 8-10% is fairly normal. Under poor conditions, 25-35% loss in a year is reasonable. And you could kill one entirely in less than a year under worst case conditions.

          • by Mascot (120795)

            Bear in mind that the post I replied to talked about needing three new batteries in as many years, with the batteries being down to lasting 5 minutes (this happened to the first and only iPod I ever bought, incidentally). Compared to that, retaining 80% after three years is freakin' stellar.

            The original endurance of that PMP, when playing video, was 6 hours. At 80% capacity that's more in the area of 5 hours.

            Whether that's noticeable or not is down to usage pattern. If I routinely used it for a 5.5 hour fli

      • Damn, my new laptop spends 99% of its time plugged in and charged up...I'd take the battery out, but the power's pretty unreliable in most places where I use it.

        My N900's battery on the other hand gets run down to 30% or lower charge every day. It'll be interesting to see which one goes first.

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      That's nice for you, but what my lady has is a Dell with a battery which conforms to SBS, and it refuses to charge even though it was still holding one when it stopped being willing to charge. It's a perfectly working battery absent the chip that tells it not to charge any more, but we're forced to get rid of it. (it had a power jack problem so it thought it was charged more times than it was.)

  • The assumption is made that I would really care if I am driving a so called "green car" when in reality I don't.

    • by dangitman (862676)

      The assumption is made that I would really care if I am driving a so called "green car" when in reality I don't.

      I don't think they performed this study just for you, personally. So, I doubt that they are making such an assumption. Speaking of assumptions, do you usually presume that everything that anybody in the world does is for your benefit?

  • I am happy, now I just have to wait for the prices to go down and the charging stations to be built before getting one.

  • I agree that electric-based transportation is a great deal more "green" than traditional ICE vehicles. However, I don't expect as great a movement toward the former whilst fuel prices remain so low. This is one of the key elements holding back the proliferation of electric vehicles: they cost more. Not only do they cost more upfront, but replacing a vehicle-sized battery pack is also quite expensive.

    Another factor I would like to argue for is this: it saves more money, and is better to the environment, to u

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