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ALABC Files Witness Statement with House Subcommittee on Energy & Water Development

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ALABC Files Witness Statement with House Subcommittee on Energy & Water Development

Dr. Boris Monahov and John Howes of the ALABC recently submitted a witness statement for the record with the House Appropriations Energy and Water Development Subcommittee that relays the consortium's views on issues concerning the US Department of Energy's vehicle technologies energy storage program.  The following is the full text of this statement:

The Advanced Lead-Acid Battery Consortium (ALABC) is pleased to provide the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development our views on the US Department of Energy’s advanced battery research and development programs.

The ALABC represents more than 60 companies and institutions from 23 countries worldwide, including 23 in the U.S., engaged in the research, development, production and recycling of lead-acid batteries used in a variety of transportation and stationary applications. Sales of lead-acid batteries exceed 75 per cent penetration in the North American automotive market. Based on market analyses, as well as on the results of our battery R&D programs, we expect that strong presence to be maintained for many years to come.

Our comments are intended to elaborate on remarks by several Members at the March 5, 2013 hearing before this subcommittee, specifically those of the ranking Member, Ms. Marcy Kaptur, who discussed the need for greater collaboration between DOE and other federal agencies on several issues to, as she said, “prevent duplication” among various agencies. The ALABC supports these observations. We believe that in an era of constraints on the federal government’s budget, every effort should be made to ensure that any duplication be avoided and eliminated.

The avoidance of duplication, however, is but one important objective of any collaborative process. We would like to offer another for your consideration. A collaborative process should also have a companion objective of preventing the work of one program from creating or magnifying unintended consequences for another.

We believe the potential exists for the work in the DOE’s advanced battery programs to unintentionally exacerbate solid waste disposal risks under the purview of other federal agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency. Specifically, there are potential risks to the environment from the disposal of lithium batteries since the total life-cycle profile (production-operation-recycling-production) of these batteries lags behind that of other battery chemistries, particularly lead-acid.

We wish to emphasize that in no way are we suggesting that DOE is unaware of such sustainability issues. In fact, Argonne National Laboratory (ANL) has been doing excellent work, including a 2010 study examining and profiling the sustainability and life-cycle costs of various battery chemistries.

Rather, we hope that as DOE follows the suggestion of your colleagues to strengthen collaborative efforts with other agencies, such collaboration will place greater emphasis on the need for sustainability in the research and development of any lithium battery design. In this regard, we offer the experience of the lead-acid industry as an example, or “benchmark,” for our colleagues engaged in the research and development of other advanced batteries.

While the electrochemistry of the battery designed by Gaston Planté in 1869 remains essentially the same today, there nonetheless have been dramatic, major improvements within the design that have helped the lead-acid battery industry maintain its position as the best-selling chemistry in the rechargeable battery market. Lead-acid batteries have several unique qualities:

  • Excellent cranking ability at very low temperatures.
  • The life-span of lead-acid batteries in mild hybrid electric vehicles and renewable energy storage has increased dramatically to the point where our industry can now produce batteries that perform at least as well as nickel metal hydride batteries in high-rate partial state of charge operation, but at a fraction of the cost. In fact, DOE has helped fund several studies of advanced lead-acid batteries and we look forward to further collaboration.
  • The recycling rate of lead-acid batteries is over 95 per cent, far higher than any other commercial product. Not even aluminum cans, tires or paper products are recycled at a comparable rate.
  • Lead-acid’s sustainability helps to ensure that most materials used in the production of new batteries come from domestic resources. Most of the cobalt, special graphite, lithium and rare earth metals used in lithium batteries must be imported.


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The ANL study referenced above notes the fact that the high rate of lead-acid recycling contributes to their low cost since the amount of energy required to recycle battery components is considerably lower than the energy required to process virgin materials. According to ANL, this sustainability of lead-acid results in a life-cycle, cradle-to-gate cost analysis is far below that of lithium-ion, nickel-cadmium, sodium sulfur and nickel metal hydride. (ANL notes a similar comparison of the amount of CO₂ emitted during the production of each pound of battery).

 
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In fact, it is precisely because of sustainability that lead-acid batteries have achieved an impressive cost advantage over competing chemistries. While lithium-ion batteries have outstanding performance test records and a strong future in the marketplace, we submit that lithium-ion batteries would greatly benefit if sustainability were to be mandated in their design rather than something optional to be ignored.

The recycling of a lithium-ion battery is still an immature, expensive process and battery producers largely prefer to use materials from virgin sources. In contrast, lead-acid battery recycling is a profitable business and manufacturers find that materials from a recycling process are less expensive than materials from virgin resources.

The lithium-ion battery packs in various plug-in hybrid and all electric vehicles were not designed to be conveniently placed into a recycling process. In addition, the recycling of lithium batteries is not mandated by EPA in either its hazardous or universal waste disposal programs.  By contrast, all lead-acid batteries are easily recyclable by secondary smelters in the U.S. that operate in full compliance with strict standards administered by the EPA.

The risk, therefore, is that as the use of lithium batteries in hybrid or all-electric vehicles continues to increase, so will the risk of spent batteries ending up stacked in warehouses or simply disposed of in landfills. Lithium batteries that are neither protected nor recycled pose risks to the environment.

DOE, EPA, the Department of Transportation and other federal agencies are fully aware of these risks and have an impressive body of research that readily explains them. But, the need for total end-of-life sustainability in the design of lithium batteries warrants higher priority attention within DOE and enhanced collaboration with EPA and other agencies.

Therefore, we strongly encourage Congress to take up the suggestion of Ms. Kaptur and your other colleagues and direct the various agencies with battery development in their portfolios to (1) create a more formalized inter-agency process and (2) require that product sustainability be given at least equal weight to the goal of avoiding any programmatic duplication.

We thank you for your consideration and will be pleased to provide further information.

 

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  1. Sullivan and Gaines, A Review of Battery Life-Cycle Analysis, ANL/ESD/10-7, 2010
  2. In the 112th Congress, S. 948, the “Promoting Electric Vehicles Act,” contained a provision to prohibit the disposal in landfills of advanced batteries used in hybrid and electric vehicles. The legislation was not enacted.
  3. We note the recent introduction of H.R. 1027, the “Advanced Vehicle Technology Act of 2013,” which contains provisions relating to recycling and inter-agency collaboration.