Are Lithium Batteries Bad for the Environment?

Lithium-ion batteries are powerful, lightweight and have a very high energy density. They power our laptops, cell phones, and are now becoming a key storage source for electric vehicles. Demand is on the rise and lithium-ion installations will grow significantly within the next three years. According to Visual Capitalist: “in 2014, lithium-ions made up 33.4% of the rechargeable battery market worldwide, worth $49 billion. By 2025, it is estimated by Bernstein that the rechargeable battery market will more than double to $112 billion, while lithium-ion’s market share will more than double to 70.0%.” 


Major advancements have been underway in lithium-ion battery technology and will soon be revolutionary for the clean energy sector. Cheaper, more effective lithium-ions are now taking over the battery market. With all of this growth, concerns have also risen as to how much more sustainable and environmentally safe these technological lithium extraction processes are, and if lithium batteries themselves are bad for the environment – however, this growth has also stimulated growth within the auto manufacturing industry. Both the environmental and economic cost of mining lithium and other rare earth metals needed for batteries has led to manufacturers investing in ways to recycle end-of-life batteries to ensure the materials are re-used.


Recent studies have described a growing interest in the recycling of lithium batteries for electric vehicles and building the infrastructure needed to do so. While there are still issues regarding the physical components of lithium-ion batteries and the efficiency of the recovery process have yet to be addressed, scientists are confident that innovation and technological developments will find solutions as lithium batteries become more prevalent. Lithium extraction may pose an environmental quandary, but the batteries they help produce are far and away one of the most efficient ways to promote a transition away from fossil fuels and towards sustainable development. 


Growth within the lithium-ion battery industry is set to spur innovation in recycling, ensuring that production of these batteries are as environmentally-friendly as possible, illustrated best by the conclusion drawn by scientists in a recent Nature paper: “Careful husbandry of the resources consumed by electric-vehicle battery manufacturing—and recycling—surely hold the key to the sustainability of the future automotive industry.” Lithium batteries are the future, and are set to usher in a new era of industrial sustainability and environmental consciousness.