Sustainable solutions for discarding EV batteries and electronic waste

 Sustainable solutions for discarding EV batteries and electronic waste

Dr Harpreet Singh Arora

Technology has grown essential as advancements in communication and healthcare improve our lives. Modern convenience and connection have been completely transformed by innovations such as cell phones, smart home appliances, and high-speed internet. Furthermore, advancements in the fields of education, healthcare, and transportation have produced better results in these areas. But in addition to these advantages, the quick advancement of technology has also resulted in an increase in electronic waste, or “e-waste.” This problem is made worse by the fact that millions of electronic devices break or become outdated every year. Devices that wind up in e-waste streams include laptops, cell phones, and household appliances. Because the challenges associated with disposing of batteries in electric vehicles (EVs) compound concerns about e-waste, this issue also impacts the automotive industry.

According to the World Health Organisation, E-waste contains multiple known and suspected neurotoxicants, including lead and mercury, that may disrupt the development of the central nervous system during pregnancy, infancy, childhood, and adolescence. Some harmful toxicants from e-waste may also impact the structural development and function of the lungs. National and international actions are crucial to protect communities from the hazards of e-waste recycling.

As India emerges as one of the largest producers of e-waste, the nation faces a challenge due to the increasing use of electronic devices. With an annual generation of 3,230 kilotons of e-waste, the country urgently needs alternate methods. Currently, only 1 per cent of this waste is being recycled, posing a significant environmental risk. Recognizing the urgency of the e-waste challenge, the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) launched the ‘Gandhian E-Waste Management System’ in 2021 which aims to create an environmentally sustainable India by improving e-waste management and raising awareness about responsible disposal among citizens.

In 2022, the Government of India notified the  Battery Waste Management Rules to address the environmental impact of battery disposal and to promote the recycling and refurbishment of various battery types, including those used in electric vehicles (EVs). These rules set an ambitious target to increase the recycled content of EV batteries to 20 per cent by 2030. As EV market penetration in India is projected to grow to 10-15 per cent by 2030, it becomes increasingly critical to manage the disposal of EV batteries to mitigate significant environmental dangers. EV batteries, primarily lithium-ion, use organic electrolytes that can break down and release toxic chemicals when overcharged, posing a serious environmental threat.

To address the environmental impact of EV battery disposal, several sustainable solutions can be implemented. One promising alternative is the replacement of lithium-ion batteries with aqueous batteries. Aqueous batteries use water as a solvent, making them non-flammable and inherently safer than their lithium-ion counterparts. These batteries employ advanced technologies that leverage water-based electrolytes, which are not only environmentally friendly but also easier to dispose of and cost-efficient. The use of aqueous batteries can significantly reduce the risk of toxic chemical release and enhance the overall sustainability of battery technology.

Additionally, the adoption of green hydrogen as a fuel offers a significant solution. EVs can be powered by batteries or fuel cells, and shifting towards fuel cell-based technology can minimize the need for conventional batteries. Fuel cells generate electricity through a chemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen, producing only water as a byproduct. This makes hydrogen fuel cells a clean and efficient energy source. Toyota Mirai is one such hydrogen fuel cell (HFC) powered electric car that is commercially available. Recently, Tata Motors delivered first-of-its-kind hydrogen fuel cell-powered buses to Indian Oil Corporation Ltd. (IOCL), the country’s largest petroleum company. However, one of the major bottlenecks for HFC technology is producing green hydrogen using minimal energy. One of the potential solutions is water electrolysis which produces green hydrogen without any harmful by-products. Reducing the cost of green hydrogen production through water electrolysis remains a critical hurdle, but advancements in renewable energy technologies, material systems and government initiatives are paving the way for more cost-effective solutions.

The Government of India is actively transitioning away from cobalt and organic-based batteries by promoting alternative technologies such as aqueous batteries and hydrogen fuel cells. These initiatives aim to mitigate the environmental impact of EV battery disposal, align with global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and promote cleaner air. To fully realize the environmental benefits of EVs, it is crucial to invest in advanced recycling technologies, foster public-private partnerships, and prioritize research and development in battery recycling. By focusing on battery reuse, better design, and innovative recycling methods, we can build a robust recycling infrastructure and create a sustainable and ethical electric mobility ecosystem. This comprehensive approach ensures that the transition to electric mobility is both effective in reducing emissions, and sustainable in managing e-waste.

Dr Harpreet Singh Arora is Head, School of Engineering,
Shiv Nadar University, Delhi-NCR.


News, Lifestyle & Entertainment stories - all at one place

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

error: Content is protected !!
%d bloggers like this: