Car batteries–impact on environment

With cars being irreplaceable and indispensable parts of our lives their every-day usage brings up the question of their influence on our environment, to be more precise the impact of car batteries on the environment.


An automotive battery is a type of rechargeable battery that supplies electric energy to an automobile. Usually this refers to an SLI battery (starting, lighting, ignition) to power the starter motor, the lights, and the ignition system of a vehicle’s engine. An automotive battery may also be a traction battery used for the main power source of an electric vehicle. Automotive SLI batteries are usually lead-acid type, and are made of six galvanic cells in series to provide a 12 volt system. [1]
Vehicles, essential to society, are continually increasing in use. However, throughout their life cycle vehicles impact the environment in several ways: energy and resource consumption, waste generation during manufacturing and use, and disposal at the end of their useful lives. About 75 percent of end-of-life vehicles, mainly metals, are recyclable in the European Union. [2]

The Impact of Car Batteries on the Environment:

Cars which have SLI batteries are huge pollutants and they are still popular because the lead-one of its main components, is cheap. However, the new trend in the car industry are hybrid cars which are supposed to pollute less. But are they so environment friendly as we’d like to think?
There are now more than one million hybrid gas-electric vehicles on American roads. Many will celebrate reaching the milestone of one million hybrids zipping around on power from their rechargeable batteries—and burning a lot less petroleum. But some environmentally motivated car buyers are concerned about trading one problem for another. They worry that a hybrid utopia might turn into a toxic nightmare when the nickel metal hydride batteries in today’s hybrids end up in landfills.
There are many types of batteries. Some are far more toxic than others. While batteries like lead acid or nickel cadmium are incredibly bad for the environment, the toxicity levels and environmental impact of nickel metal hydride batteries—the type currently used in hybrids—are much lower. There’s little argument that lead is extremely toxic. Scientific studies show that long-term exposure to even tiny amounts of lead can cause brain and kidney damage, hearing impairment, and learning problems in children. The auto industry uses over one million metric tons of lead every year, with 90% going to conventional lead-acid vehicle batteries.
While lead recycling is a mature industry, it’s impossible to rescue every car battery from the dump. More than 40,000 metric tons of lead is lost to landfills every year. According to the federal Toxic Release Inventory, another 70,000 metric tons are released in the lead mining and manufacturing process.


Honda, Toyota and the entire auto industry are pumping millions of dollars into research regarding lithium ion batteries for tomorrow’s cars. Their primary motivation is to reduce the cost and increase the potency of hybrid batteries. Fortunately, supplanting lead and nickel batteries with rechargeable lithium batteries is also promising from an environmental perspective. Instead of clogging landfills with more toxic chemicals, hybrids—especially future hybrids powered by lithium ion batteries—may represent greener pastures for car batteries. [3]


People and scientists being aware of the harmful effect of car batteries on our environment are investing all of their knowledge and resources in creating an environment friendly car. With that idea in mind we can expect to soon have improved hybrid versions of cars, but until that happens a serious attention needs to be paid on proper battery recycling.


[2]JOM Journal of the Minerals, Metals and Materials Society Volume 49 / 1997 – Volume 63 / 2011


AUTHOR: Josip Ivanovic