Lithium-ion batteries have seen a dramatic increase in adoption. Phones, computers, and even cars now rely on lithium-ion battery technology. It has become popular in large part due to its promise as a more environmentally friendly and sustainable energy option. Recent breakthroughs in lithium-ion technology have made the technology much safer, longer lasting and more affordable.

Fossil fuels, such as gasoline and diesel, have come under fire for their harsh impact on the environment. It has become clear that these forms of energy are not a sustainable option moving forward. Is lithium-ion battery technology the answer? And more importantly, how green are lithium-ion batteries? To answer this question we need to start from the beginning.

Keep Reading: Are Lithium-Ion Batteries Safe?

Where Does Lithium Come From?

Lithium comes from the earth, but unlike other resources, it doesn’t require destructive processes to harvest. Most often, lithium is found in briny underground ponds. The liquid from these ponds is pumped out and dried in the sun. The resulting liquid is lithium carbonate. This carbonate is then processed into the lithium that can be found in your pocket right now.

This process has a minimal effect on the environment, but scientists hope to eliminate the impact altogether as they continue to improve the process. One of the environmental issues regarding the lithium-ion battery industry actually has nothing to do with lithium itself. The machinery used to harvest, process, transport, and assemble lithium-ion batteries predominantly still rely on fossil fuels like gas and diesel. One major opportunity is to power these machines with lithium-ion batteries. Doing so would greatly reduce the environmental impact and would position lithium-ion as the future of energy.

Lithium-Ion Recycling Process: An Area of Concern?

The practice of harvesting, processing and assembling lithium-ion batteries is much greener than fossil fuels like gasoline and diesel. With that said, the adoption of lithium-ion powered machinery can reduce the environmental impact even more. What happens when a lithium-ion battery’s life comes to an end?

The environmentally friendly answer is recycling. A major benefit of lithium-ion technology is its longevity. Nex Gen batteries, for example, last up to 10 times longer than lead-acid batteries due to their efficiency. This means there is less to be recycled each year. Even better, when lithium-ion batteries are at the end of their usefulness, the batteries can be taken apart and their bits reused. Tesla, for example, recycles the cooling fluid, wires, and electronics in its batteries.

All of this points to a bright and environmentally friendly future for lithium-ion batteries. Currently, this is not reality. Only 5% of lithium-ion batteries are currently being recycled. This is due to a shortage of recycling factories around the world and a lack of understanding from consumers about the recycling process. Recycling lithium-ion batteries is currently an expensive process. According to the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, a nanoengineering professor at the University of California, San Diego recently discovered a simpler way to recycle lithium batteries that preserve their most valuable component: their microstructure. This new process, as well as other recycling techniques that are currently being experimented with, could dramatically improve the economics of recycling.

Are Lithium-Ion Batteries Environmentally Friendly

So, are lithium-ion batteries good for the environment? Yes. Can lithium-ion batteries become even more environmentally friendly? Absolutely.

The technology and the process required to create the end product aren’t perfectly green, but it represents a major step towards a greener and more sustainable world. As technological advances reduce the cost of recycling and begin to power the very machinery used to make the process possible, we will see lithium-ion technology become the energy source of the future.

Until then we will have to settle for progress. No energy source is perfect. At least not yet.