Several years ago, Li-ion batteries, as used in mobile phones, computers, portable tools and a myriad of other devices were considered a fairly benign object, except for the possibility that they may rarely, spontaneously burst into flames.
There was little conversation about how they were made and what you might do with the old, worn out ones. All that changed when Nissan and Tesla brought out electric vehicles that were capable of replacing fossil fuelled vehicles and governments started to adopt strategies to encourage EV uptake in our private transport fleets.
Suddenly, our social media feeds are littered with images of huge open pit Lithium mines in the Atacama desert, pictures of the Congolese child labourers involved in cobalt extraction in DRC and claims that we will soon be awash with old, unusable Li-ion batteries. Other critics (many of them well respected environmentalists) point out that the batteries themselves have a high carbon emissions footprint, so hardly can be considered to be a solution to high transport emissions.
Yet, electrifying our private vehicle fleet is one of the cornerstones of our Emissions Reductions Plan and the expectation is that 30% of our light vehicle fleet will be electric by 2035. Is this just moving our emissions offshore whilst retaining the problems of private car ownership of overconsumption, congestion, roading and parking requirements? Or can EVs and small electrified personal mobility vehicles transform private transport without incurring huge environmental costs elsewhere. I’ll be talking about what’s been happening behind the scenes to ensure that the second scenario is the one that we adopt.