In this blog post we delve into the materials used to produce solar back up batteries. We will look at the practices at are used to extract the materials used to manufacture these products and what may happen when these batteries expire. Read more below.
When Consumers May Need A Back Up Battery
Solar is the hot, green energy source right now. Solar panels are designed to use the sun’s energy to power homes, buildings, and cars. But, when the sun isn’t shining no electricity is produced. While solar paneled homes are hooked to a power grid that supplies power when the home isn’t producing enough, if the power goes out or is shut off there’s no source of electricity. Some suggest that a battery to store extra energy produced by solar panels is necessary to ensure you have power when you need it.
Raw Material Extraction for Solar Back Up Batteries
These back up batteries might not be as environmentally friendly as one might think. Lithium-ion batteries are available in utility-scale and residential energy storage systems to store excess solar power. The majority of the world’s lithium comes from the “Lithium Triangle” in Chile, Argentina and Bolivia. Though that area has supplied almost 12,000 tons of lithium, that’s still not enough to meet the demand for the chemical necessary to make the batteries.
In South America, the material is produced using brines in which salty water pools for months at a time. The lithium will become more concentrated as the sun evaporates the water then it’s extracted to be processed into lithium chloride for use in batteries. In some cases, half a million gallons of water per ton of lithium is needed for these brines. The water use raises concerns for the people living in the areas where the brines are located because these areas experience drought often. Using the limited water sources for the brines could leave the residents without water to drink.
The second choice for extraction of lithium is Australia. Because of the geological difference, however, the extraction is more energy intensive. After the chemical is extracted from the earth, it is sent to China to be converted into battery-grade lithium. The lithium is extracted from hard rock, or ores. High temperatures and chemicals are used creating more energy use — which increases emissions — and more land use because land must be cleared in order to dig mines. There’s also the matter of where the waste rock is to be discarded, which will take up more land.
Though lithium is the major part of the battery, there are other components that go into making the battery: graphite, cobalt, and nickel are other materials used. The mining practices that go along with obtaining the lithium and cobalt for EV batteries can be harmful to the people living in the countries that produce these materials. One major concern is how the mining of cobalt affects the people in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The process in which cobalt is produced puts many locals at risk. The miners don’t wear face masks or gloves and are often under the age of 18. Mine collapses are also common causing injury and death. Environmental impacts on the people living near these mines include pollutants trailing into rivers and drinking water and exposure to radioactive materials.
What Happens to Batteries at The End of Their ‘Life’?
At the end of the battery’s life, less than five percent of the lithium-ion batteries are recycled. It is evident that recycling is possible because a Belgian mining company does recycle those batteries already. Unfortunately though, it would take a large worldwide investment to be able to sufficiently meet the need of recycling the influx of discarded batteries that is predicted to occur around 2025.
Recycling the batteries, especially the minerals essential to making them run, is a concern because there are limited supplies of these elements. As mining continues, supplies are being used up and what’s left is often more difficult to get to. Additionally, there is concern of what to do with the discarded batteries.
Solar batteries do harness energy to be used when the panels are not producing electricity, but they may not sustainable or environmentally friendly. One option for being ready for power outages is a standby propane generator. Learn more about standby generators in our blogs post titled, Don’t Be Left in The Dark During Power Outages and What Makes Propane The Best Choice For Standby Power.