SL cautioned of electric vehicle battery disposal woes

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Disposing of electric vehicle (EV) batteries could become a national issue in the medium to long-term without proper policies, as the first electric cars will begin to require replacements for their batteries shortly, an automobile industry stakeholder told a recent seminar in Colombo.

“We need proper disposal guidelines and measurements for EV batteries. Improper disposal will become toxic for the environment,” Associated Motorways (Private) Limited (AMW) Deputy General Manager Pradeep Wijerathne told a public consultation seminar organized by the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka.

Over a dozen other experts and EV enthusiasts speaking at the event, including officials from the state-run Ceylon Electricity Board, too mirrored the sentiments of Wijerathne.

Sri Lanka already has a major crisis in disposing waste. Added to this is Sri Lanka’s e-waste problem. Currently, in the category of mobile phones alone, there are more in operation compared to the country’s population. Mobile phones are regularly replaced, resulting in a massive pile of e-waste.

The Lithium-Ion EV batteries too are similar to the small mobile phone batteries—the most toxic component of the devices. However, the EV batteries are considered too large to be land-filled in countries already facing problems with EV battery disposal.

Disposing and recycling EV batteries has become a profitable and scalable industry, since both vehicle manufacturers and governments in many countries have pledged to make EVs the only vehicles in production in another 20-30 years time.

The European Union has tackled the problem of disposal by making EV producers responsible for collecting and recycling the EV batteries. Many middle men have cropped up in Europe, taking contracts from EV producers to engage in such activities.

Wijerathne said that similarly AMW too, as the official agent of Nissan in Sri Lanka, could take charge of disposing EV batteries in the country, and that it has partnered with a German company to export and recycle old EV batteries.

Some of the early models of the Nissan Leaf produced in 2010, bought second hand from Japan, and accounting for over 95 percent of the 4,500 or so of the EV population in the island, may begin to require replacement batteries over the next few years.

“An EV battery lasts for around eight years, and ten years at the maximum,” Wijerathne said. The battery on the Leaf has an eight-year warranty.

According to him, the Leaf battery, which initially gives the car a range of around 160-170km per charge, falls to around 100-110km per charge at the end of eight years, while in some extreme cases, the range falls to as low as 50km per charge.

He said that some owners in Sri Lanka have already imported and replaced batteries, but that he does not know how these owners disposed their batteries.

A replacement battery for the Leaf costs around US$ 5,500 in the global market, and once accounting for local duties and taxes, would cost more than importing a small Indian car. AMW’s replacement charge is Rs. 2 million.

EV owners already face higher maintenance and insurance costs due to the low availability of EV spare parts and batteries, wiping out the gains of low fuel cost.

However, prices are continuously falling due to technological progress.

Wijerathne said that to limit the need to replace EV batteries, the country should bring in a regulation forbidding the importation of EVs more than 6 months old, thus allowing the batteries to be in use for a longer period of time.

In addition to being environmental-friendly, EVs could have a positive effect on the country’s balance of payments compared to vehicles using fossil fuels, since many vehicles are now being encouraged to be charged at off-peak night hours through the national grid, when the load can be managed by indigenous renewable energy power generation.

Many EV owners also own solar panels which contribute to both charging EVs and to the national grid.

The 2018 budget is rumoured to have policies friendly for EV ownership, which would exacerbate the problems related to disposing EV batteries in the future.

The 2015 interim budget, which slashed EV import duties to just 5 percent, saw the importation of over half of the current EVs during that year. Taxes were again raised in 2016, slowing down imports to a trickle.

This inconsistency in policy caused Nissan to delay plans to officially introduce the Leaf to Sri Lanka.

Wijerathne said that the plan may be revisited if the 2018 budget is friendly.

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