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Electronic vehicles debate challenges future of environmental waste management and role of OSH professionals

IOSH webinar – Environmental and Waste Management Group:
‘The international challenge with the Electric Vehicle (EV) batteries recycling process’
Wednesday 25 August 2021, 12 midday BST

With the European Union looking to see 30 million electric cars on European roads by 2030, and with proposed legislation heralding an effective ban on the sale of petrol and diesel vehicles in the EU from 2035, electric vehicles (EVs) are arriving in force.

This influx has been triggered by the fact transport accounts for around a quarter of the total greenhouse gas emissions in the EU and is one of the main sources or air pollution in cities. And while the Covid-19 pandemic has dealt a severe blow to new car sales, UK registrations of battery electric vehicles (BEVs) actually grew by more than 180% in 2020 to 108,000 vehicles, with BEV sales expected to double this year.

Yet while EVs may not emit any carbon dioxide during their working lives and can help reduce emissions, leading to an improvement in air quality, what happens when these high voltage vehicles run out of road? In particular, what happens to their batteries on reaching their end of life? Critically, the amount of batteries used in BEVs is far larger than in the hybrid vehicles that, until recently, had dominated EV sales.

Growing volumes of these old EV battery packs will be headed for scrap yards and they won’t be straightforward to deal with. In fact, most batteries have the potential to be extremely dangerous if not handled carefully. Packs, which typically have voltages of about 400V but can be as much as double this, must be electrically discharged to ensure safe handling. If they get punctured, rapid fires can result and cause highly toxic gases to be released.

These growing and potentially harmful effects of the drive to reduce emissions and improve air quality will be highlighted and debated at a webinar, next week (Wednesday 25 August, 12.00 midday BST), presented by the Environmental and Waste Management Group of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH).

The hour-long webinar, which will comprise two presentations followed by a Q&A session, has been organised in collaboration with vehicle recycling titles ATF Professional and Auto Recycling World:

  • Presentation 1
    End of Life Vehicle (ELV) depollution hazards – Danny Swygart and Roy Johnson, both Regional Safety, Health and Environment Managers with the EMR Group
  • Presentation 2
    Staying Safe on the Road to Zero – Andy Latham, Salvage Wire
    The safety implications of high voltage for the automotive industry, including vehicle technicians, first responders, recovery companies, salvage and dismantling and fleet operations.

For more details and to register to attend the webinar go here.

David Thomas, Chair of the IOSH Environmental and Waste Management Group committee, said: “This promises to be an absolutely fascinating webinar that will throw open the whole question of what we mean by environmental waste management and how we safely manage the impact of any operation.

“As I understand it, we’re going to need 59,000 tonnes of lithium each year in the UK alone to meet demand for the batteries that are going to power these new vehicles; proposals to extract lithium in Cornwall using geothermal techniques, for example, will create their own Environmental and OSH risks in trying to close out this demand gap.”

“This is before you even get to the whole issue of recycling the old batteries, with all the Polymer Matrix Electrolytes, liquids and accompanying fire dangers involved,” he added.

“We’re in a greener world now with the UK leading new green technologies and this is bringing OSH professionals new opportunities and challenges to broaden their knowledge in many new areas of risk management.

“As (OSH) professionals, we have to learn new technical engineering skills as technology develops if we’re to protect the health and safety of not only the people involved in these work activities but also the environment we live in.

“And maybe IOSH needs to include understanding the technology of the sector its members work in as a core competency?”

Veronica Scarano, Compliance & Performance Manager for commercial electric vehicle company Arrival and a fellow member of the IOSH Environmental and Waste Management Group committee, added: "EV batteries are made from cobalt, lithium and nickel, so the mining of these raw materials raises ethical and environmental concerns.

“The International Energy Agency (IEA) forecasts that global EV stock will need to grow by 36% a year, reaching 245 million vehicles in 2030.

“Once in landfills, metals from the batteries can contaminate both water and soil, therefore it’s critical to develop new smart and efficient engineering and introduce their end-of-life impact study at the very early design stage.

“Creating a circular supply chain by recycling the batteries’ raw materials will be vital in reducing their environmental impact when they come towards an end of life," she added.

Haydn Davies, editor of Auto Recycling World, said: “We are committed to promoting the valuable work carried out within the auto recycling industry. Like its sister site, ATF Professional, we act as a hub by following innovations, providing an understanding of the issues faced by the industry and sharing their viewpoints.”

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Jeremy Waterfield
Content Officer +44 (0)116 257 3632
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