Newly proposed regulation that arbitrarily caps the lifespan of EV batteries at 10 years and forces mandatory recycling risks stifling battery longevity innovation and promotes a disposable car culture, cautions Dr. Jeff Dahn
For several years now, Quebec has been one of Canada’s leaders on environmental and climate policy. The electrification of transportation is perhaps the area where Quebec has played the strongest leadership role. But suddenly, Quebec is about to take a sizable step in the wrong direction with its planned electric vehicle (EV) battery recycling regulation. The proposed regulation will put Quebec on the wrong path – one of poor environmental stewardship, inefficient use of resources and greater costs to EV buyers.
For those who have not been following the intricacies of Quebec’s proposed recycling regulations, the main problem with the proposal is that government deems that batteries have a 10-year life span and obligates manufacturers to reclaim a very large portion of their batteries — ultimately reaching 90 per cent — when they reach that age, even if they are healthy and still working fine.
An EV owner cannot be forced to recycle their battery after 10 years and if their vehicle is working fine, why would they? But then how does the manufacturer meet the recycling rate requirements after 10 years? The short answer is that this policy will encourage manufacturers to install inferior batteries with a limited 10-year life span in order to meet the requirements of this proposed regulation.
Quebec’s assumption that EV batteries have an average life span of 10 years is simply inconsistent with reality and the trajectory of the industry.
I have spent a good portion of my career working to extend the lifespan of lithium-ion batteries. The batteries in today’s vehicles cannot and should not be managed as if they are oil filters, televisions, consumer batteries or lightbulbs. Producers should be responsible for the batteries they produce and they should have to collect their batteries, upon request, at end of life. Such a requirement would encourage automakers to focus on battery longevity. But this is not what Quebec is planning.
The most valuable part of an electric car is the battery. Many of today’s leading EV batteries are expected to outlast the vehicles they power. EV batteries are not like smartphone batteries as their value necessitates sophisticated charging and temperature control. Advanced EV batteries are designed and operated to ensure long lifetime.
In my opinion, Quebec needs to go back to the drawing board and consult with battery experts on battery life span.
One of my main objectives as a researcher is to understand what leads to lithium-ion cell failures and how to get those cells to last longer. So, I am disappointed to see Quebec develop rules that would discourage innovation, that will reward shorter lifespan batteries and penalize those companies manufacturing long-life batteries.
If it adopts its planned regulations, Quebec will set a terrible precedent for itself, Canada and the world. Before finalizing its regulation, Quebec needs to step back, look at its objectives and design a new recycling plan: producers should be responsible for the batteries they produce and encouraged to design and implement the longest lifespan possible. Obligating manufacturers to recover batteries when they are still healthy and fulfilling their owner’s transportation needs would be entirely counter-productive to the government’s transport electrification plan and general environmental goals.
The right way to maximize the environmental and consumer benefits would be to obligate vehicle manufacturers to recover and recycle all of their own batteries when the vehicle owner – the consumer – doesn’t want that battery and when that owner doesn’t want to sell that battery to a recycler themselves for the valuable materials it contains.
To find out more about Quebec’s proposed regulation changes please visit here.
Dr. Jeff Dahn is a lithium-ion battery researcher at Dalhousie University in Halifax, working toward the development of a million-mile EV battery. He is the 2017 recipient of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council’s (NSERC) Herzberg Canada Gold Medal.