Alberto F. Minguela
Recently, I attended Faraday cohort event on behalf of the VALUABLE project as Lead Project Manager (LPM). It was organised by the Faraday institution at the National Motorcycle Museum. The FI brought together all the projects awarded a grant part of the national effort to lead the charge on UK’s electrification. The event started with an overview presentation of the Fast Start projects, led by university consortia and supported by the automotive industry nationwide. At VALUABLE we have been looking closely at the RE-LIB project. This project works to grow research knowledge to support a recycling industry to thrive in the UK.
Following the UK Battery Industrialisation Centre, UKBIC, was presented. The UKBIC is an ambitious development for a pilot battery manufacturing plant that will be available to the industry by 2020. Then each of the representatives for the Faraday Battery Challenge, FBC, funded projects, included VALUABLE, stand up on stage for a 3-min pitch to present the project. The pitch for VALUABLE attracted great attention as it looks at an area sometimes neglected, waste! Few of the attendees approach me to discuss synergies between our FBC projects as well about how HSSMI and the rest of partners can support their businesses.
Particularly the circular economy, my area of expertise, is very hype now but not much knowledge is built within the companies yet so HSSMI work can be really pivotal in realising the potential for your business. Other areas like remanufacturing of batteries, how to bring back to new a broken battery, or reuse of cells for other applications like home energy storage or off-grid supplies were of great interest. Our partners in the VALUABLE project, Aspire Engineering and Aceleron were there too and had the opportunity to discuss remanufacturing and reuse respectively.
I am glad the Knowledge Transfer Network and UKRI put together this event as it has been a great opportunity to exploit our work in the project and showcase the capabilities of each of the partners. If you would like to know more about the project or what each of the partners can do for your business gives us a shout.
Prof M. Goosey
Energy is generally considered to have so little mass that, for all intents and purposes, it is negligible. It can of course be considered in the context of Einstein’s famous law, which defines the relationship between energy and mass as follows; where E is energy, m is mass and c is the speed of light.
Using this law and taking the speed of light as being 3x 108 m/s, a single joule of energy has an equivalent mass of around 11 femto grammes, which is indeed very little.
However, if we start to think about how much energy weighs in real life applications, it is not the weight of the energy itself that is important but the medium that is used to store it. In the world of transport this was once, for example, the weight of the coal that was used to boil water in steam engines or, more recently, the petroleum-based liquids that power our ubiquitous internal combustion engines. In the last few years, we have become accustomed to the use of new power sources and technologies, such as the lithium ion batteries that are increasingly used to store and provide energy for powering electric vehicles. In these cases, a key consideration is not just the amount of energy stored but the overall weight. This is very important for transport applications, as moving a large mass of batteries consumes a substantial amount of energy. As a result, this aspect is typically reported in terms of energy density, i.e. the amount of energy stored, or provided, per unit mass and it is where comparisons of the different approaches start to get both interesting and more complex.
Prof M. Goosey
The drive to increase the numbers of electric vehicles on our roads has been given a boost in recent months with several governments announcing plans to limit or entirely ban the sale of new conventionally powered cars in the future. This is clearly needed if we are to solve the problems currently impacting major cities such as London, where there is acute air pollution from nitrogen dioxide emitted from vehicles. A key objective of the move to electric vehicles is to bring about an improvement in air quality in our cities.
However, at the moment, electric vehicles are relatively expensive compared to their fossil fuel powered analogues, costing typically up to twice the price. In order to make them more economically attractive to buyers and to encourage sales, many governments have chosen to offer subsidy schemes, including cash rebates on the purchase price and reduced levels of annual taxation. This has worked well in countries such as Norway where new electric car sales make up approaching 30% of the total. This has been achieved through a range of incentives; electric vehicle users do not have to pay import duties, they can drive in bus lanes and do not have to pay tolls. In the UK, the government has provided substantial subsidies of up to £5,000 for electric vehicle purchases, although this has now been reduced. It has been reported that, in the USA, it is possible to get as much as $15,000 in subsidies by combining federal, state, and local incentives. If one looks at the uptake of electric vehicles by country, there seems to be a correlation between the wealth of the country and the number of electric vehicles sold. In the case of Norway, the GDP per capita rate of €64,000 is around double the EU average. In the USA, 79% of the tax credits provided for electric car purchases went to people with annual incomes of more than $100,000 per year.
Dr E. Goosey
The production of a battery is highly impacting. They contain multiple elements, some of which are relatively rare. The mining impact of sourcing these metals is the most impacting part of the production. Though it is thought that once in operation within electric vehicles the benefits of zero emissions outweighs the impact from production. In addition if there are opportunities to extend the lifetime of a battery the production impacts can be further reduced.
However, many assessments take into consideration the use of sustainable energy, where as the reality, at present, is that the energy arises from oil, gas, nuclear and green energy in the UK. In the UK <20 % of energy is supplied from sustainable energy sources. Therefore, the energy supplied to electric vehicles is still impacting upon the environment. The RECHARGE project stated “A BATTERY IS AS GREEN AS THE ENERGY IT USES”.
A recent report from Ricardo noted that for production an electric car emits 8.8 tonnes eq.CO2 whilst a petrol vehicle produced 5.6 tonnes eq. CO2. Further environmental impacts are created during the recycling and disposal of batteries at end of life. Regulations require that no electric vehicle batteries are sent to landfill or incineration, leaving 100% to be collected and recycled. The recycling of a battery is highly impacting because of the numerous elements and materials used and the difficulty in their separation. In addition, electric vehicle batteries require discharging, dismantling, sorting and treatment prior to recycling, all of which takes energy.
There is a change in location from exhausts to the power plants, but there are still numerous impacts.
Reduction of environmental impacts can be achieved by longer usage durations. This is the major benefit of applications addressed by the VALUABLE project, which seeks to extend the lifetime of a battery beyond its first use to - end of useful life, via multiple reuse cycles.
The reuse of batteries is a new and evolving market, which can have positive impacts on both the environment and EU+UK economies. The development of markets for
Dr E. Goosey
Despite electric cars only just becoming popular, we are already seeing a movement to electrify other vehicles for commercial application. There are numerous projects and being undertaken to demonstrate the wider opportunities for battery propulsion. Current ideas and projects are presented here:
The use of battery operated vehicles in underground mining is beginning to take off. The benefits hailed by the use of electric vehicles include improved air quality for workers from zero emissions vehicles and tools, coupled with reduced air purification costs (ventilation and pumping fresh air in)
Trials are beginning through European Commission funded projects such as SIMS (http://www.simsmining.eu/)
BMW, TESLA and many other battery electric vehicles have invested in operations suited to boats. There are now options to power motor boats, sailing yachts and commercial marine like water taxis with batteries. The benefit of this is the reduction of pollution on the immediate environment, helping to keep busy waterways clean and minimise impacts on the local aquatic ecosystem, as well as minimising noise pollution. This market is expected to reach $20 Bn by 2027.
Further more the European Commission is providing grant funding to projects seeking to develop battery technology for large transport and cargo ships used in European waters. The current challenge is power and weight trade offs for these large vessels.
Dr E. Goosey
Cobalt is a conflict mineral that has been hitting the headlines recently over the rising value and the environmental impacts of mining the material. Cobalt has surged to a 10 year high of £60 per kg. This is a major material security issue for electric vehicle manufactures and the supply of batteries. Cobalt is primarily sourced from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (63%), where recent new mining codes have been drawn into the law. This law sees royalties from cobalt sales being paid on to the government. Not only are manufacturers worried about the rising price of batteries, but are being pressured to assure that the minerals the batteries are made from are sourced in an ethical and environmentally responsible manner. With the increase in price a rise in ‘artisanal mining’ is occurring. Where artisanal mining is primarily conducted by children and currently represents 16% of the Democratic Republic of the Congo supply.
The Democratic Republic of the Congo has been linked to prior issues such as child labour, conflict minerals and strip mining. Workers in the Congo were recently highlighted in the news for the poor working conditions they endure. Many working by hand (no automated tools), no personal protective equipment, and transport the materials by foot. The work is dangerous due to poor safety requirements, and limited risk assessments. The workforce can also be made up of children who are brought in to join their other family members. In addition to these hazards, the workers risk their health from environmental exposure to dust leading to toxic respiratory issues (lung cancer), plus exposure to natural high radioactivity levels from the mines (uranium resulting in lung cancers, malignant neoplasmers).