Batteries are bad for us!

Batteries used in consumer electronics (and electric cars) is ever increasing at a massive rate. At first glance electric energy seems great as it is infinite and we can use green sources (wind, photovoltaic) to capture. But this energy has to be stored somewhere, and batteries are the primary form of storage today. But from the extraction of raw materials, through production, insertion in to electronics products and finally their disposal, there are detrimental effects on the environment and the human workforce that comes in to contact with them. First of all, we are taking highly toxic materials, and combing them in to a poisonous and flammable assemblage. The inside of a battery factory is not a great place. Lithium dust (seriously) is blended with a plastic resin, bonded to aluminum (for the anode) and copper (for the cathode), wound together, placed in an aluminized plastic pouch, filled with electrolytic chemicals and sealed. This combination can then be fed voltage and holds this energy. Once inserted in to a device this energy becomes available, and rechargeable. But it is dirty energy. The bi-products of that process are so bad that most countries, except China, don’t allow companies to produce batteries. The fancy factories in the US are only able to exist with major regulation applied, and automated processes, which make it safer for workers, but there is still a lot of toxic bi-product. And what about end of life? We all have experience with the battery life of our electronics fading over time, some very quickly and most highly degraded after only one year of use. What happens then? Landfill is usually the final resting place. If those chemicals are released from their pouches it is a major risk of entering our ground water. And with recent events where lithium batteries in landfill have caused fires, it is clear that people don’t understand how dangerous they are when not disposed of properly. I wish there was a viable alternative today. There are hydrogen fuel cells. super-capacitors or solid state batteries, but not enough attention is being put to these to solve the problems discussed here. These technologies continue to stay R&D projects. Pundits say they will be too expensive, which is true as long as they stay as R&D projects. Only commercialization will bring their cost down to a realistic position. But we also need to consider the cost of the toxic waste we are making with batteries and what that means for our health. We have to stop putting our head in the sand and ignoring this factor.
Steven Nersesian