Design solution for the looming waste battery crisis
Brisbane battery box design The Vaulta company was founded in response to the looming environmental disaster of electric vehicle batteries. Currently, most of them are landfilled, a massive waste of resources and an environmental threat.
Our homes, our cars, our gadgets, our planes – all are becoming renewable, and this energy needs a place to be stored.
More and more, we are going to depend on batteries to bring so many objects around us to life. But while batteries will be the key to our renewable energy future, the issue of their recycling and reuse is quickly becoming an imminent problem.
Current battery designs mean we solder them, glue them into cases, screw them in and suck out their lifespan. Once done, it becomes complicated, and therefore expensive, to recycle them – they all end up in the trash and landfill.
With around 350,000 electric cars sold each month, the world is addicted to batteries and usage will increase dramatically over the next decade. And each of those batteries will need to be replaced.
The impact will be to send 90,000 tonnes of batteries per month to landfills. A comparison would be equivalent to throwing 94 South Australian mega-batteries into a landfill every 30 days.
Because we throw away rather than salvage, there is an associated and significant financial burden on automakers, battery makers, and all businesses that depend on batteries. Whether it’s a cost issue or an environmental issue, it will be unsustainable.
The alternative is to design a better battery. You won’t hear it often, but when it comes to batteries, it’s what’s on the outside that matters.
By modifying current designs of battery boxes, we can remove the barriers to make them inexpensive to recycle and easy to reuse. A better and simpler design also means minimal labor, and therefore cost, would be required to replace existing cells in a battery.
From a design perspective, we have to go back to the source of the design and the design intent, which is what you intend to do with the product. For the most part, this is not taken into account from a production design perspective of battery modules.
Right now, there is a quick and logical way to put batteries together, which most manufacturers follow, but it doesn’t take into account what happens at the end of that first life. Because if it is designed so that it can be disassembled, it creates the possibility of reusing the batteries and being able to access the battery cells without using any destructive processes.
It is important to note that these destructive processes are also risky processes.
When removing batteries, the big unknown is the residual voltage – how long is the battery life? Handling these things is dangerous and cumbersome, but if you have a design that allows the batteries to simply be disassembled and basically lay all the batteries on a table, then you don’t have to worry about the tension because it’s already done, you took it apart.
There is no harsh tension or worrying tension about what you are doing.
The primary focus should be the design for disassembly. If we design for disassembly we get better maintenance, we use less energy in the assembly process, we get better quality cells at the end of their first life that can be sent for reuse in applications second life, and we get less new batteries required in the first place.
Not all applications need a new cell. Just as we all drive cars of different ages, different age cells can also provide us with seats, power our homes, or reduce the load on the grid.
But we need to start discussing design and recycling right now, and we need to focus on what happens at the very beginning of the battery life cycle.
If we work harder on what happens in the beginning, it makes it easier to resolve issues before we end up with another dump crisis.
Dominic Spooner is an industrial and product designer, and founder and CEO of Vaulta, a Brisbane-based company specializing in battery case innovation.
This story was originally posted by @AuManufacturing. You can subscribe to the @AuManufacturing newsletter here.
Photo: Concept Vaulta EV (main) and below, Dominic Spooner
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