Are Hybrid Batteries Bad for the Environment?
Updated: Jul 1
Not long ago, hybrid batteries emerged as the gold standard in strides towards a more sustainable future. Made famous for their use in hybrid and electric vehicles, hybrid batteries are also used with solar panel systems. There’s no disputing the fact that hybrid batteries reduce reliance on fossil fuels, which is of vital importance. But, do hybrid batteries have other environmental impacts that should give us pause? The answer might surprise you. Read on to learn about negative impacts to the environment caused by hybrid batteries.
What is a Hybrid Battery?
Hybrid batteries can recharge, thanks to generating power from more than one source. For example, in hybrid cars, power comes from electricity or gasoline. In submarines, diesel is used when the watercraft is above water and then relies on the battery when the sub is submerged. In solar panel systems, energy from the sun is converted to energy used in your home by a battery. Today, there are several common types of hybrid batteries.
Lithium-ion batteries are widely used in vehicles, electronics, mobility aids, toys, handheld power tools, appliances, thermometers, hearing aids, solar power systems, and much more.
Nickel-Metal Hydride Batteries
Nickel-metal hydride batteries are a type of hybrid battery frequently used in vehicles, computers, phones, solar street lights, emergency/guidance lights, medical devices, and tools.
Lead-acid batteries are the oldest type of rechargeable battery and a commonly used battery for energy storage. They were widely used in early model hybrid vehicles. Today they continue to be used in emergency lighting, and solar power systems.
Environmental Impacts of Hybrid Batteries
Unfortunately, for all the progress that hybrid batteries have helped make in reducing reliance on fossil fuels, these batteries do cause varying degrees of environmental harm. Consider for example that lithium ion batteries contain cobalt, nickel, and manganese, which are considered toxic heavy metals. Moreover, all of these elements must be mined, which comes with its own often significant environmental cost in countries including Chile, Africa, Tibet, and Australia.
To date, lithium-ion batteries are recycled at a rate of less than 5%. Since the US throws away more than 3 billion batteries a year, according to the EPA, that means that billions of batteries go unrecycled.
Nickel-metal hydride batteries also cause environmental harm, These batteries contain rare earth elements, including lanthanum, and contain a significant amount of cobalt which must be mined.
Likewise, lead batteries pose their own hazards to the environment. Although they are 99% recyclable, lead exposure during the recycling process is noted by the World Health Organization as a source of environmental contamination.
Are There Alternatives to Hybrid Batteries?
As the world churns towards a more sustainable future, much progress has been made in pursuit of rechargeable batteries that pose less environmental risk. For example, vanadium redox flow batteries have longer life spans of up to 25 years and a near 100% recyclability. Absent cobalt or other toxic heavy metals, vanadium flow batteries rely on water-based electrolytes, which allows for the safe reuse of the electrolyte. Moreover, the manufacture of vanadium flow batteries is much less carbon intensive than the manufacture of other rechargeable batteries.
Learn More About Vanadium Flow Batteries
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