For the production of batteries, raw materials and energy are needed. Lithium Iron Phosphate batteries have several advantages over other technologies when it comes to the use of these raw materials, in terms of safety. And they contribute to the reduction of CO2 emissions when they are used in combination with renewable energy production from solar panels or wind turbines.
Solar and wind energy production have become very efficient. For example, the cost of a PV installation has dropped by more than 70% since 2010. But unfortunately the wind does not always blow and the sun does not always shine. This means that some form of storage is needed to match supply and demand of electricity. Lithium iron phosphate batteries have several practical and economical advantages over lead acid and other lithium battery technologies:
- Maintenance-free; for example, it is not necessary to top up the water level.
- Much longer life span than lead acid batteries (up to 10x longer), and therefore a much lower 'total cost of ownership'.
- Faster loading times.
- More efficient charging process.
- Much lower self-discharge, so less energy is lost between charges.
- Very stable and non-flammable.
- Free of gases, vapours and leaks.
A recyclable alternative to lead acid?
Disposing of and recycling batteries continues to be a heavy burden on the environment. Some lead-acid batteries are safely recycled to recover the lead and other materials. But many lead-acid batteries still end up in landfills, especially in developing countries.
Because the electrodes of lithium iron phosphate batteries are made from non-toxic materials, they pose a much smaller threat to the environment than lead-acid batteries. They can also be recycled to reuse the materials from the electrodes, wiring, and casings. Some of these materials can be used in new lithium batteries. At the moment there are already LiFePO4 batteries available that contain recycled materials.
Due to the long lifecycle of lithium batteries, there are still a lot of batteries in use, which means that the recycling processes are still in their infancy. As more lithium batteries reach the end of their lives, recycling will become more efficient as engineers continue to improve the processes used to recover the materials.
So there are great environmental benefits to using lithium iron phosphate batteries instead of lead acid batteries.
But how do LiFePO4 batteries perform compared to other lithium batteries when it comes to environmental friendliness ?
Lithium by itself is not toxic and does not accumulate like lead or other heavy metals. But most lithium technologies use nickel oxides, cobalt, or manganese in their electrodes. It takes an estimated 50% more energy to produce these materials compared to the electrodes in lithium iron phosphate batteries. A 2013 report by the EPA (United States Environmental Protection Agency) showed that lithium batteries based on nickel or cobalt have the greatest environmental impact of all types of lithium batteries. Lithium iron phosphate technology like in AlphaESS batteries are therefore the most environmentally friendly.
LiFePO4 batteries also have other major advantages over other lithium technologies:
- They do not use rare or toxic metals, but contain readily available materials such as copper, iron and graphite.
- Much less energy is used in the extraction and processing of raw materials.
- Phosphate salts are less soluble than metal oxides, so the risk of leaching into the environment is much lower. Especially if the batteries are collected correctly.
- And of course, LiFePO4 batteries are much more chemically stable. There is much less risk of ignition or bursting.
So again, lithium iron phosphate batteries come out better.
Aren't saltwater batteries much better for the environment?
Saltwater batteries obviously contain very few toxic materials, but that doesn't mean they would be more environmentally friendly than lithium iron phosphate batteries.
To understand this, you need to look not only at the use of materials, and energy over the lifetime, but also at the efficiency during use of the battery.
You simply need much more saltwater battery than lithium iron phosphate battery to achieve the same.
We are all concerned about the environment, and together we strive to do our part in reducing pollution and using scarce materials. When it comes to choosing a battery technology, lithium iron phosphate is currently the right choice.