A major part of the transformation of the world’s energy system is the electrification of nearly everything. Between the increasing popularity of electric vehicles and all kinds of mobile electronics, that means a lot more batteries.
Other than fuel cells, there is no competitor to batteries, beyond those devices that can be charged directly by the sun. And while fuel cells will find a few niches where they can compete effectively, as they do today in forklift trucks, the foreseeable future belongs, by and large, to the battery.
A great deal of research is being pursued to make a better battery, one that is lighter and smaller, with a higher storage capacity, and the right power characteristics to meet the various demands to which it is applied. One problem with batteries that has received less attention is the question of disposal. What do you do with all of these things when you’re done with them?
The most widespread battery today is the one found in conventional cars: the lead acid battery. Because lead is so dangerous, a comprehensive system has been put in place to make sure all of that lead is safely recovered. In fact, lead acid batteries are the No. 1 most recycled item in the world, achieving a 99 percent recycling rate, far more than plastic bottles, tires or anything else.
Other batteries have not been nearly so well cared for. Alkaline, the most popular non-rechargeable battery that has ruled the roost for several decades, is not considered hazardous waste by the EPA, even though the leachate from them can be harmful to wildlife. Only five states require them to be treated as hazardous. Considering the fact that they are non-rechargeable and must be replaced regularly, there are literally billions of them out there.
But good news is on the horizon. Energizer just announced a new rechargeable battery, the Energizer Recharge battery, that contains 4 percent recycled content by total weight. The battery is available in AA and AAA configurations. The company previously announced its Eco-Advanced Alkaline battery, which also contains 4 percent recycled content. While 4 percent is truly a small amount, it does represent a positive step while also demonstrating that the company is taking this issue seriously. It was apparently enough to earn Energizer a Product of the Year Award in the sustainability category in TNS consumer surveys both in the U.S. and the U.K.
“Energizer Recharge is another step forward in our vision that all Energizer batteries contain some amount of recycled battery materials," said Michelle K. Atkinson, chief consumer officer at Energizer. "Our scientists partnered with rechargeable suppliers to build on the knowledge and experience from Energizer EcoAdvanced and identified a process to use recycled content in our rechargeable batteries without sacrificing performance, an idea previously not thought possible by industry experts."
In Energizer's proprietary process, high-performance active ingredients are obtained from hybrid-electric vehicles, which also helps to create a market for those batteries at the end of their useful life. The material receives further refining before being added to the smaller batteries. Hopefully this represents a small but not insignificant first step on the road to a zero-waste scenario for batteries.
Image courtesy of Energizer
RP Siegel, author and inventor, shines a powerful light on numerous environmental and technological topics. His work has appeared in Triple Pundit, GreenBiz, Justmeans, CSRWire, Sustainable Brands, Grist, Strategy+Business, Mechanical Engineering, Design News, PolicyInnovations, Social Earth, Environmental Science, 3BL Media, ThomasNet, Huffington Post, Eniday, and engineering.com among others . He is the co-author, with Roger Saillant, of Vapor Trails, an adventure novel that shows climate change from a human perspective. RP is a professional engineer - a prolific inventor with 53 patents and President of Rain Mountain LLC a an independent product development group. RP was the winner of the 2015 Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week blogging competition. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org