Electric Vehicle Batteries and the Environment: Assessing Recycling and Waste Management

Air pollution modeling has shown that for California to achieve clean air goals, emissions from motor vehicles need to approach zero. In September 1990, the California Air Resources Board approved Low-Emission Vehicle and Clean Fuels regulations, which require that a percentage of vehicles offered for sale in California have zero emissions. Electric vehicles, powered by batteries, meet the zero emission standard today. As planning for electric vehicles (EVs) takes place, one important concern is waste management of spent batteries. All of the most commercially viable batteries for EVs contain hazardous materials, and spent batteries would be considered hazardous wastes in California. However, some of these batteries can be recycled. In this study, Design for Environment (DfE) methodology is used to assess recycling and waste management for EV batteries. The goal is twofold: (1) to provide meaningful information that can be used at the design and public policy levels to enhance recycling and reduce environmental impacts from waste management or spent EV batteries; and (2) to provide a comparative analysis of different battery technologies for their potential environmental and health impacts during the recycling and waste disposal life stages. The DfE methodology is also evaluated. The assessment is organized into four categories, each relating to recycling and disposal: manufacturing, political and social viability, environmental impacts, and toxicology/exposure potential. Four battery types are analyzed: lead-acid (PbA), nickel-cadmium (NiCd), nickel-metal hydride (NiMH), and sodium-sulfur (NaS). Each battery type is ranked for each issue using the metric "level of concern;" the uncertainty of the scores is also presented. Scores within each issue are summed, allowing for a comparison of battery types based on the likelihood the EV battery will be recycled or disposed of, and the concern that recycling or disposal will cause human health and environmental harm. The NiMH battery received the best overall score for recycling, followed by PbA, NiCd, and NaS batteries. PbA and NiCd battery types received the best scores for disposal. The modified DfE method is shown to be useful for a comprehensive evaluation and comparison of design issues relating to environmental attributes.

Where to find

The dissertation can be obtained from: UMI Company 300 North Zeeb Road Ann Arbor, MI 48103 1-800-521-0600 the UMI number is 9526467

Author Nancy Lee Clark Steele
Institution UCLA
Advisor Dr. David Allen
Expected graduation 1995