January/February 2021 | Vol. 26 No.1
Like many of you, I own a car powered by an internal combustion engine. Also, like many of you, my next car is likely to be an electric vehicle (EV) of some sort. My reasons are simple: cost of ownership, performance, and ready access to NEMA Member-made charging stations.
Notably absent from my list of reasons above is anything related to the environment. That matters to me, but much of the conventional wisdom suggests that reduced carbon emissions from an EV, coupled with (assumed) use of carbon-less renewable generation, makes the transition to EVs a de facto win for the environment. Yet, at least one major consideration to the contrary exists: battery waste.
All batteries, including those used in EVs, have a lifespan associated with the number of “cycles” (a discharge coupled with subsequent charging) that the battery is capable of performing before it deteriorates. Eight to 10 years of life is the e-automobile industry average, after which the owner needs a new battery (or a new car). So, what happens to the old batteries? The International Energy Agency estimates that fewer than 5 percent of them are recycled. By 2030, 11 million tons of EV batteries are expected to reach their end of life.
The NEMA Energy Storage Section recognized the need for a battery recycling market and is taking steps to catalyze its development with a Standard for assessing the recyclability of lithium ion batteries (from both vehicle and stationary sources). Such a Standard is a microcosm of a much broader topic: the circular economy..
As described by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the concept of a circular economy “… entails gradually decoupling economic activity from the consumption of finite resources and designing waste out of the system.” Circular business models increase utilization of an asset by extending the length of time that it creates value, and/or by fostering product re-use through collection, repair, and refurbishment. This is in contrast to a “linear” business model, which employs utilization of a finite resource until that resource is exhausted, cost-prohibitive, or no longer needed.
The environmental benefits of a circular economy are apparent, but we must expect they will be evolutionary. That being the case, manufacturers can explore the use of circularity now to derive economic benefits, including increased margins from waste reduction and supply chain efficiencies and increased sales from product design innovation and new outside investment.
It comes as no surprise that many NEMA Members are moving toward a circular business model. In a 2019 survey to NEMA Members, almost half of respondents stated that circular concepts are “somewhat” or “mostly” integrated into their companies. Of that group, approximately three quarters have included or intend to make them part of their company’s corporate strategy.
The NEMA position on the circular economy concept is simple and aligns directly with our mission to help our Members reduce costs and expand profitability. NEMA is committed to supporting our Members’ efforts to move toward more sustainable business practices, whatever the underlying motive, to the extent doing so does not lessen product safety or performance. For example, this includes promoting public- private partnerships to establish the logistical infrastructure to collect and transport waste electrical equipment, with manufacturers and users/consumers sharing the responsibility for environmental stewardship.
So, when I see you at the EV dealership in a few years, we can both acknowledge the myriad benefits of going electric and take comfort knowing that NEMA Members are leading the way to a responsible, more circular future. ei.
Kevin J. Cosgriff
NEMA President and CEO