The Obama administration has set a lofty goal of having one million electric vehicles on the road by 2015. As electric vehicles become more popular I wonder if we might just be trading one problem for another. We all know from our past experience that you certainly don’t want to get battery acid on your skin, let alone have it affect the ground water supply; this could be devastating. Are we destined to have landfills filled with toxic batteries? What I found as I scoured the internet looking for information was surprising to me; it appears that modern lithium batteries pose less of a threat of pollution than the old lead batteries, last long enough to minimize the environmental impact, and also can and should be completely recycled at the end of their useful life.
The key to all battery usage is proper disposal and recycling and dumping any batteries into landfills poses a health risk. But regardless of the type of battery (lead, nickel, or lithium), if recycled properly they pose little environmental risk. In addition, according to the Battery University if more batteries were recycled it would be profitable to do so. Lithium batteries in general present less environmental threat than do their predecessors and also have a substantially longer life cycle. Chevrolet expects the lithium Ion battery in their Volt plug in vehicle to last the life of the car and warranties their batteries for eight years.
Overall I was pleasantly surprised to find that should an electric transportation infrastructure play a major role in our future, battery disposal should not be a major threat to our environment. The most important feature is to make sure there are programs in place to properly dispose and recycle used batteries. If people act responsibly and recycle their batteries at the end of their useful life the threat will be minimal.