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Lithium Iron Phosphate (LiFePO4) batteries have many properties that make them superior to other battery technologies. They are lightweight, versatile, have a long lifespan, charge quickly, and can withstand cold, heat, bumps, and mishandling. There is no risk of burning when charging and discharging.
But are lithium iron phosphate batteries environmentally friendly?
Energy and resources are required to manufacture any type of battery, but lithium iron phosphate batteries outperform other technologies in terms of resource consumption and safety, and have great potential to help reducing carbon emissions when used in wind and solar systems. Let’s take a look at some of the environmental benefits of using lithium iron phosphate battery technology.
Wind and solar are incredible system when it comes to generating the least carbon emissions. Solar power in particular has taken off, as the cost of installing solar panels has fallen by more than 70 percent since 2010. But the wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine, which means that actual off-grid or partially off-grid solar systems rely on batteries as a steady source of power. LiFePO4 batteries are ideal for energy storage in solar photovoltaic systems, and they offer several practical and economical advantages over lead-acid or other lithium battery technologies, including:
Perhaps most importantly, LiFePO4 batteries are inherently stable and non-flammable, and they do not generate dangerous and messy outgassing, fumes, and leaks.
Disposal or recycling of batteries remains a key environmental question. Over 3 million tons of lead-acid batteries are discarded every year. While some are safely recycled to recover lead and other materials, many ends up in landfills, especially in developing countries, and the toxins can cause fires and explosions and poison food and water supplies for generations.
Because the electrodes are made of non-toxic materials, LiFePO4 batteries are far less risky to the environment than lead-acid batteries. They can also be recycled to recycle materials used in electrodes, wiring and casings for use in new lithium batteries. Even now, buyers have the option to purchase lithium iron phosphate batteries made from recycled materials.
The long lifespan of lithium batteries used for energy storage and transport means that many of them are still in use, so the recycling process is still in its infancy. Recycling will become more efficient as more lithium-ion batteries reach end of life, and more widespread as engineers improve processes for recycling key materials.
The use of lithium iron phosphate batteries has great environmental advantages over lead-acid batteries. But in terms of environmental protection, how do lithium iron phosphate batteries compare with other types of lithium batteries?
Good, it turns out.
Lithium itself is not toxic and does not bioaccumulate like lead or other heavy metals. However, most lithium battery chemistries use oxides of nickel, cobalt or manganese in their electrodes. Estimates suggest that 50 percent more energy is required to produce these materials than electrodes in lithium iron phosphate batteries. A 2013 EPA report showed that lithium-based batteries using nickel or cobalt have the greatest environmental impact, including resource depletion, ecotoxicity and human health impacts, due almost entirely to the production and processing of nickel and cobalt.
In contrast, lithium iron phosphate batteries have great advantages over other lithium chemistries:
· They do not use rare earths or toxic metals and use common materials including copper, iron and graphite
· Consume less energy in the extraction and processing of materials
Phosphates are also less soluble than metal oxides, so they are less likely to seep into the environment if batteries are improperly discarded.
· Of course, LiFePO4 batteries are chemically stable under almost all operating and storage conditions without burning and cracking.
Once again, lithium iron phosphate batteries are ahead.
While producing practical and efficient batteries does require resources, not all battery technologies are created equal. Compared to lead-acid batteries, lithium iron phosphate batteries not only have superior operating characteristics, but are also much less toxic to produce and recycle.
Lithium iron phosphate batteries use more abundant, non-toxic materials and can be produced with less energy than other lithium battery technologies. The performance and safety of LiFePO4 batteries also make them the best choice for electricity storage in zero-emission renewable electricity, wind and solar power systems.
We all care about protecting the environment and we strive to do our part to reduce pollution and resource consumption. When choosing a battery technology, lithium iron phosphate batteries are an excellent choice for enabling renewable energy sources such as wind and solar energy and minimizing the consequences of resource extraction. As lithium iron phosphate batteries become more widely used, the environmental benefits of this technology will continue to grow.