We are all thinking about buying an electric or hybrid car: the media constantly send us messages and images of electric cars. They are better, they don't pollute, they are quiet, you can buy them with considerable incentives. We are bombarded with images of electric cars and we are led to believe that they can really improve the pollution situation. But no one ever talks about batteries, which - if not disposed of properly - can become real environmental bombs.
But what are electric car batteries and what do they look like? Batteries are made of heavy metals and rare earths. Just because electric cars don't emit harmful gases into the atmosphere doesn't mean they are non-polluting. On the contrary, batteries are still batteries and, as such, their hazardousness cannot be overlooked. In this regard, hazardous metals are the ones of greatest concern because they pollute a lot and, combined with acids, can contaminate groundwater, the air and the earth itself, possibly even ending up in our bodies, given that we eat fruit and vegetables that come from contaminated soil.
But there are many types of batteries. There are nickel-metal-hydride batteries. They are on the verge of extinction, gradually being replaced by lithium batteries. These are the first batteries used in older generation hybrid cars, as an 'additional' power supply to the petrol engine. Some batteries are lead-acid. These are also being replaced by lithium batteries, which are much lighter. Lead-acid battery technology is the oldest, but not the most obsolete, because it has recently been innovated with 'lead-gel' technology, which has improved its performance. And then there are the more famous and much-vaunted lithium batteries. These are the most modern, but there are different versions. LiPo lithium-polymer batteries are dangerous because they can catch fire and explode in the event of a collision. This is why they are not used in transport, but are used in the Internet of Things to power sensors in objects ('thin-film' batteries). Safe and reliable versions of lithium batteries are lithium-ion (Li-Ion), lithium-iron-phosphate (LiFePO₄) and lithium-iron-hyttrium-phosphate (LiFeYPO₄). The problem, as has already been mentioned, is how to dispose of them properly, without polluting the environment, in a way that is respectful of animals and us humans.
Moreover, rare earths are precious, "endangered" materials and it is very important not to waste them. Recycling is a best practice, allowing us to reuse materials that are available to a limited extent and that we cannot afford the luxury of wasting. The exploitation of our planet cannot continue indefinitely and we must realise that only recycling can save us from electronic disaster, especially when dealing with hazardous soils and materials.
Heavy metals, acids and lead could end up being released into the environment if we do not take the necessary precautions when disposing of them and do not turn to professionals. Only qualified mechanics can take the necessary steps to prevent dangerous substances from being released into the environment. It is therefore better to be wary of excessively competitive prices or of mechanics without the necessary permits. With their illegal behaviour, they not only cheat, but also pollute, allowing oils, acids, heavy metals and other substances to enter the environment and, consequently, the entire food chain. To avoid this, it is important to go only to authorised workshops - which can also be found on the web - and thus be sure to do good for the environment.
If you have any doubts, questions or special requests, please contact COBAT (Compulsory Consortium for Spent Lead Batteries and Lead Waste). This consortium makes recycling its business, and brings together thousands of members including body repairers and mechanics, members who fight for a clean and better environment.
And while the importance of recycling batteries is sacrosanct, other questions remain: if cars are electric, do we really know where that electricity comes from? Will it really come from renewable sources, or will it come from coal-fired power stations? It's worth thinking about.