Running on EV: The race to solve lithium-ion battery recycling before it’s too late

Americans can be forgiven for thinking that the battery recycling problem is a long ways away. Electric vehicles constitute only about 2% of the U.S. market, notes Jay Whitacre, the director of Wilton E. Scott Institute for Energy Innovation at Carnegie Mellon University.

“We’re not close to the tipping point yet. The actual percent of electric vehicles that are on the road right now in the world is extremely small,” says Whitacre, who spent two decades researching batteries. “Now, in 2030, if we actually are fielding 25 million electric vehicles per year, that’s about four and a half million metric tons of battery material. That’s about one-fifth of the global annual production of aluminum.”

In other words, we’ve been consumed with finding alternatives to petroleum when we really ought to be worried about better understanding the commodities that will help usher in a new automobile age. In the future, our streets will be powered by lithium, not fueled by gasoline. Why aren’t we more concerned about the ramifications of this change?