So what’s the issue with L-ION batteries?
The main component of a lithium-ion battery is the reactive alkali metal, Lithium has become gold dust for today’s investors. In fact, as the world turns ever more towards renewable energy sources, Lithium is now in such high demand that it’s extraction is becoming an environmental issue in its own right.
Let’s look at some stats (taken from “The spiralling environmental cost of our lithium battery addiction” – Amit Katwala, WIRED on Energy Aug 2018)
Extreme water usage.
To extract lithium from its source in the South American salt flats it takes approximately 500,000 gallons of water per tonne of lithium. In Chile’s Salar de Atacama, this equates to 65% of the whole region’s water supply meaning that local farmers and whole communities are having to get their water supply driven in from elsewhere – no doubt at highly increased costs.
Chemical damage to the environment.
During the extraction process there is also the potential issue of toxic chemicals leaking from the extraction plants into the local water supply. Research conducted in Nevada, United States found that fish up to 150 miles downstream from a lithium processing operation were adversely affected.
Speaking in a 2009 interview about the growing lithium extraction industry Guillermo Gonzalez, a lithium battery expert from the University of Chile, said;
Like any mining process, it is invasive, it scars the landscape, it destroys the water table and it pollutes the earth and the local wells… This isn’t a green solution – it’s not a solution at all.
The other two main components of L-ION batteries are cobalt and nickel, which each come with their own problems and environmental cost.
Taking Cobalt as an example, this expensive element is almost exclusively found in the Democratic Republic of Congo where, unfortunately, there are limited health and safety and environmental regulations surrounding its extraction. As demand has soared over the past few years, there now exists a multitude of unethical and unsafe extraction practices including the use of child labour.
So you can see why this is not necessarily the most environmentally friendly or socially mindful decision to take.
And so it’s back to the design board … on the lookout for alternative solutions; striving to be Earth mindful in every element of our design. And it’s with this mindset that we get really excited when we come across companies like RheEnergise; a collective of creative individuals designing innovative solutions for pumped hydro storage.
Do you, or those in your circle, know of any companies offering innovative renewable energy storage solutions who may be interested in talking to us? We encourage you to get in touch; we’d love to hear from you!