Electrified - Rechargeable Batteries as a Key Technology
9.5 feet long, 179.5 horsepower strong — the carbon sea scooter shoots across the water surface at over 60 miles per hour. There is no audible roar of an engine, just the water foaming and a low whirring sound. This is because the futuristic-looking vehicle is not powered by a conventional combustion engine. It runs purely on electricity.
New mobility applications
Heavy commercial and agricultural vehicles, cranes, vans, but also energy storage for commercial and private use — high-performance rechargeable batteries, particularly lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries are increasingly making their way into applications that were previously reserved for combustion engines or simply not widely available. In addition, the technological progress in terms of their performance, dimensions, and weight is turning them into a good fit for completely new applications such as drones or energy storage in homes.
This development is reinforced by the process of energy transition. Due to the mandatory phase-out of fossil fuels in several places worldwide, many companies are facing enormous challenges. Their products and services are affected by this, and so are their equipment, tools, infrastructure, facilities, or processes as well as logistics and their employees’ mobility. Many companies are facing the challenge of developing solutions including battery cells or handling rechargeable batteries for the first time. From sustainable supply chain, design, manufacturing, and logistics to repair and recycling, every step must be reconceptualized with safety and environmental considerations in mind. With its comprehensive services in energy storage, DEKRA offers suitable services along the entire value chain.
Minimizing environmental risks
The massive increase in the demand for rechargeable batteries is posing several challenges in terms of sustainability. In addition to the use phase itself, those can be divided into three categories: raw materials, production, and recycling.
Extraction of raw materials
In 2022, around 130,000 tons of lithium were mined worldwide. The light metal is the main component of lithium-ion batteries. By 2030, the demand is projected to increase to between approximately 316,000 and 550,000 tons per year. This growth impressively illustrates the challenges companies face in procuring sufficient quantities of lithium. And it is not just lithium: the demand for cobalt, nickel and other rare metals will also increase rapidly. To meet the growing demand, it must be ensured that the mining of these raw materials is neither environmentally damaging nor socially irresponsible.
Production requires vast amounts of energy and causes greenhouse gas emissions. Rechargeable batteries are currently produced in many countries, with requirements for protecting the environment and employees during production and for monitoring compliance with standards varying widely. Long distances between production and distribution that transports need to cover also additionally cause significant amounts of CO2 emissions.
Lastly, recycling the materials poses yet another challenge. Many rechargeable batteries contain hazardous chemicals and metals that can potentially endanger the environment and human health if disposed of improperly. Worldwide, most batteries, both rechargeable and single-use, are not recycled, but instead end up in landfills or are burned.
Reduce, reuse, recycle
To meet these challenges, ambitious legislation in numerous countries and economic zones is leading to the consistent implementation of the circular economy with regard to the production, use and reuse of rechargeable batteries and their components. The increasing demand cannot be met if the return of used resources to the economic cycle is not ensured at the same time. The consumption of resources must be reduced, the service life of rechargeable batteries must be increased as far as possible, and old energy storage devices must be recycled.
- Redesign: Technological advancements or design adaptations reduce resource consumption.
- Extension of service life: Repair and refurbishment of batteries (reuse) extend their service life.
- Recycling: A high recycling rate returns rare metals to the economic cycle and prevents material loss.
Safe and sustainable along the entire value chain.
To minimize the burden on the environment and the planet as much as possible, the transition to energy storage like rechargeable and single-use batteries has to comply with the principles of the circular economy. DEKRA supports all involved along the entire value chain on this journey, from raw material suppliers and producers to recycling companies:
- 1. Mining lithium cobald, nickel, copper etc.:
Most rechargeable batteries contain lithium, cobalt, nickel, and other rare metals. Mining these raw materials can be damaging to the environment and socially irresponsible. To minimize the burden, the experts at DEKRA assess or test the compliance with labor, safety and environmental standards in the extraction of raw materials in the supply chain and across national borders and, if required, also on site. Due to tightening regulatory requirements in most regions of the world, the reliable verification of the entire supply chain is becoming increasingly important for battery cell manufacturers and system integrators.
- 2. Planning and manufacturing:
How can energy storage systems become even more efficient and effective? The use of new materials like in sodium-ion batteries can save resources and reduce the burden on the environment. All services are also offered during development, but also within the scope of homologation, certification, and quality assurance or market surveillance, respectively. The range of battery testing is very wide and contains all phases of construction from individual cells to battery modules and complete battery packs. The production process itself must also comply with applicable labor, safety and environmental standards.
- 3. Transport und storage:
Concerning the protection from fire as well as from leaks of hazardous substances — safety is also a priority when it comes to the transport and storage of battery cells. Depending on the performance and condition of the battery, the risk may increase. Especially transport by aircraft may pose a risk. This is why the experts at DEKRA offer tailor-made consultations and training on transport and storage as well as on-site inspections of storage facilities.
- 4. Use:
Labor, safety, and environmental standards must also be met throughout the service life of battery cells. The goal is to increase the duration of its lifespan to ensure safe and sustainable use. DEKRA offers a wide range of services for the testing of energy storage and the associated infrastructure during the entire life cycle.
- 5. Repair and reuse:
Reusing rechargeable batteries for a new purpose holds enormous potential to save resources. However, it must also be ensured that the used battery cells do not pose a risk to people or the environment. Expert knowledge is required to assess whether the battery can be reused or whether it is considered damaged and must be disposed of.
- 6. Recycling:
The recycling process for lithium-ion batteries is energy-intensive and requires a high level of technical expertise. It is important to ensure that the recycling process is as safe and sustainable as possible and that the recycling percentage is as high as possible in line with the "zero waste" vision.