Darwin's Theories Blog

New Theories for a New Time

I Predicted This: More Recycling of Green Energy byproducts

EV Batteries, Solar Panels

The other day I commented on new tech for recycling wind turbine blaes. There are two other green energy by-products that fossil fuel’s friends keep harping on, EV car batteries, and solar panels. As it happens, both were in the news recently. Solutions to both, that is.

Solar panels contain silicon, a very plentiful element, and one of the main components of everyday sand: beaches, deserts, sandboxes, etc. But in PV (photovoltaic) panels, the silicon is bound to other substances in such a way that you can’t just pull it apart. Science Daily reports on survey research at the US National Energy Research Labs (NERL) on different means of recycling solar panels and the progress that is being made there. The Science Daily article is a year old but was reported again recently.

As for EV batteries, as I’ve asked before: "When was the last time you threw gold jewelry into the landfill?" Probably never, because gold is regarded as so valuable, there are people who make a living buying small amounts of gold jewelry and selling it in bulk to refiners, who smelt it down and sell it to jewelry makers and industrial users. Well, EV batteries contain metals including elemental lithium, which is also valuable. Auto Wrecking Yards already fill a similar role for dead cars: they remove and sell usable parts, and the rest goes into iron smelters. There is every reason to believe that they know better than anyone how to extract the most value from a dead car. An EV battery consists of hundreds of small cells, each roughly the size of a flashlight battery cell (technically a battery is a collection of cells, so "an AA battery" is an oxymoron, but that’s what most non-technical people call it anyway). When an EV battery fails, it is usually the case that many of the cells are good and will hold a charge. So there are already companies that make "refurbished" EV battery packs by taking all the cells out and stress-testing them, putting the good ones back and sending the others for recycling. And other companies (including Nissan) who buy up under-performing battery packs for use in energy storage.

But on a larger scale, the largest EV makers, including Tesla (another Tesla story), VW and Nissan have either running or in-progress EV battery recycling programs. And well-funded independents such as Tesla co-founder J.B. Straubel’s company Redwood Materials are in the game as well.

So it’s safe to say that if humanity does go under, it will not be from the proliferation of dead solar panels, dead wind turbine blades (currently under a fiftieth of one percent of discarded material in the US), or dead EV batteries. It will more likely be the result of continuing to burn massive quantities of fossilized, billion-years-dead biomass.