Lithium Ion Collapse and Buried Blades: The Dark Side of Clean Energy
The European-American green tech boom is at times very similar to a series of ill-considered decisions.
The mass introduction of electric vehicles, for example, was launched without the possibility of recycling their spent batteries.
It should be noted that this is not news - when at the turn of the XIX – XX centuries a car appeared in the classical sense of the word, no one cared about the fate of their used cars. More than 150 years have passed since then, but the approach has not fundamentally changed.
How to dispose of the millions of lithium-ion batteries that will be phased out in the next decade is still unclear.
Now only in the EU there are about 8 million electric cars, and by the beginning of the 2030s this number will increase 2-3 times. BMW alone plans to assemble at least 2030 million electric cars by 7.
Currently, according to the most optimistic estimates, no more than 10-15% of used batteries are recycled.
At some point, the critical mass will be reached, and this will cause a real lithium-ion collapse.
By the way, the prudent Europeans and the Japanese have already found a partial solution to this problem - to send used electric cars to Russia.
A few years ago in Europe, the conditional Nissan Leaf was bought at a car dealership with a significant "green" discount, and now it is sold abroad with a small loss of value as a result. The second bonus is that the problem of recycling a powerful battery is now not European, but Russian. So far, a little more than 6 thousand electric cars are registered in our country, but every year the fleet of cars is only increasing.
There are currently no factories in Russia responsible for the disposal of lithium-ion batteries. And even if they did exist, it is far from every region that it is possible to remove a battery weighing several tens, or even hundreds of kilograms.
How, for example, can you deliver the traction battery of the mentioned Nissan Leaf, for example, from the Krasnoyarsk Territory to a disposal site somewhere in the Urals?
It's much easier to buy another used battery and just throw away the old one. For reference - one AA size battery infects up to 20 sq. meters of land. And in Tesla Model S alone, there are about 7 thousand such batteries.
Disposing of batteries this way can cause the contents to burst into flames. Source: energovector.com
The Russian government does not predict the problem of disposing of a huge amount of batteries.
The Concept for the development of production and use of electric road transport in the Russian Federation for the period up to 2030 was recently adopted. Without going deep into the essence of the document, it is worth noting that in nine years, every tenth car produced in Russia will be electrically powered.
Even the government itself does not seem to believe in this fantastical scenario, since they have not planned programs for the further disposal of lithium-ion traction batteries. As an option for the development of events, in the near future there will still appear another project for the development of the battery recycling industry with similar prospects.
And electric cars are only part of the problem here.
Over the past couple of years, the number of individual self-propelled electric gadgets has increased 15 times. In the end, this technique will make a long life, freeing up millions of unusable batteries.
The service life of batteries from electric cars can somehow be extended by using them as stationary energy storage devices, and with batteries from scooters it is more and more difficult. In the household, there is little use from them, there is nowhere to hand them over as lead-acid batteries, so users most often simply throw them away ...
The problem with lithium in the composition of batteries is the high cost of recycling: it is easier for factories to purchase natural raw materials than to recycle used batteries. Therefore, technologies do not catch up with the needs of recycling.
The methods of processing existing now can in no way be called environmentally friendly.
The easiest way was to simply burn the batteries, restore some of the metals, and turn everything else into slag. By the way, lithium, aluminum, calcium and other elements remain in the slag forever. Nobody is going to get this good, and the waste is simply added to the concrete composition. No one really thinks about the fact that metals will sooner or later fall into nature. Not to mention the large volumes of toxic gases emitted during combustion, which are dangerous even after cleaning.
Toxco suggested, on the contrary, to cool the batteries down to -195 degrees Celsius with liquid nitrogen. Frozen and fragile batteries are crushed with steel millstones. The resulting mixture is separated by various separators, and lithium salts are reduced to metallic lithium using liquid reagents. The process is almost perfect, except for the huge energy costs, which largely negate all the bonuses of environmentally friendly technologies.
There is also a more primitive method of mechanical processing, which consists in simple grinding of batteries and subsequent separation of the components.
But, firstly, with such production, the likelihood of ignition of lithium-ion batteries is high. One battery that has deteriorated during the transportation process is capable of burning down a recycling workshop - it is very difficult to extinguish burning lithium.
Secondly, the productivity of such mechanical destruction factories is too low. We'll have to occupy decent territory before meeting the ever-growing demand for recycling.
Cut and bury
The second, but far from the only, problem of the widely advertised "green" transition was the blades of wind turbines.
Like any mechanical device, they tend to wear out and need to be replaced. Only now it is very difficult to attach a seven-ton, forty-meter blade. It's all about the material - a lightweight and durable composite that is almost not recyclable.
At first glance, this problem does not seem so important - it is not so often that wind turbines need to replace the blades. Of course, not often, only there are a lot of wind turbines on the planet, and in the United States alone, more than 8 thousand blades are thrown away every year. In Europe, in the next eight years, about 5,7 thousand wind turbines will be decommissioned, which is more than 17 thousand blades.
If lithium-ion batteries can at least try to be disposed of in rare recycling plants, then nothing useful at all can be done with composite structures.
The simplest thing is to cut it with diamond discs for ease of transportation and just bury it. This is done in the American states of Wyoming, South Dakota and Iowa. Dozens of square kilometers are occupied by the burial of "green" technologies. Composite does not decompose in nature for hundreds of years, does not bring much harm, but "turbine graveyards" are practically forever withdrawn from economic circulation.
The Americans, with their endless prairies, can afford to bury the remains of "electric mills", which cannot be said about cramped Europe. However, there is nothing to do, and the European Union is forced to approve of this.
So far, only Germany, Austria, the Netherlands and Finland have banned windmill blades from being buried on their territory. An alternative would be the good old burning of blades, followed by the disposal of coal in concrete mixes. The toxic gas tail and the high costs of this method force us to look for new approaches.
A partial solution is the mechanical and very energy-intensive crushing of the blades, followed by the addition of the resulting product to plastics. Or, for example, extruding it and making flooring. But this process is only 40% effective - the rest has to be thrown away.
In addition, the issue of plastic filled with composites is not being resolved, which later one way or another will have to be disposed of. In search of a solution, the Danes from Vestas propose to create blades from 100% recyclable material. So far, however, there are no ready-made samples, and the serial technology can only become by 2040.
As practice shows, environmentally friendly energy sources bring with them a heap of intractable problems.
On the one hand, green technologies are indeed reducing dependence on fossil fuels.
On the other hand, the energy spent on utilization can consume a large part of the benefit.
Added to this are the risks associated with unstable windy weather that could halt thousands of wind turbines and drive up the prices of conventional fuels.
In any case, the excessively fast "green" transition does not seem so salutary for the planet as it did at the very beginning. stories its announcement.
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