The transition to electric cars in Sweden is advancing rapidly, with the goal of a 70 percent reduction in transport emissions by 2030. Yet, switching to battery-powered vehicles could lead to several sustainability challenges.
In order to tackle those issues, Rickard Arvidsson, associate professor of environmental system analysis at the Chalmers University of Technology, believes it could be beneficial to investigate alternative battery models less reliant on critical metals like lithium, cobalt and nickel.
In his research, Arvidsson noted the growing use of lithium iron phosphate (LiFePO4) batteries, which do not require cobalt or nickel but still rely on lithium. Sodium-ion (Na-Ion) batteries were also noted as another popular alternative battery model currently under heavy research. These batteries use common metals such as sodium and iron.
Arvidsson’s ongoing research indicates that using sodium-ion batteries could significantly decrease the demand for critical and rare metals compared to the current lithium-ion battery technology.
Arvidsson is not alone in stressing the need for battery innovation to handle the industry’s sustainability issues. Swedish battery manufacturer Northvolt, for instance, plans to address those challenges with the Revolt Ett recycling facility, which is scheduled to open in the third quarter of this year.
The company, founded by former Tesla VP Peter Carlsson, also intends to locally recycle old batteries and use the reclaimed materials as feedstock for new batteries, which it considers a sustainable solution for the industry.
The recycling process developed by Northvolt in 2018 involves dismantling the batteries, followed by crushing, shredding and filtering.
After separating materials such as copper, aluminum and plastic, Northvolt gives them to industry partners for recycling. The remaining black mass, which includes nickel, manganese, cobalt and lithium, is what Northvolt retains.
According to Emma Nehrenheim, the chief environmental officer at Northvolt, the company employs the hydrometallurgy process to extract metals from the black mass, resulting in battery-grade quality metals.
In this process, the black mass is dissolved in acid to return the metals to their original state. This method eliminates impurities that may have been present in the metals, which are typically a hindrance in the metal recycling process.
“This means that you can recycle it as many times as you want,” Nehrenheim said.