The relative contributions to the environmental impact values for AA-sized NiCd batteries are further shown graphically in Figure 7 as functions of both battery
Cobalt Cadmium Nickel
Cobalt Cadmium Nickel
Percentage of NiCd Batteries Recycled
Figure 7. The Effects of Recycling, Performance and Composition on the Environmental Impact Values for AA-Sized NiCd Batteries performance ranges, degree of recycling and the individual contributions made by the major battery metals. It is evident that high performance batteries have lower environment impacts than lower performance batteries. It is also clear that increased recycling rates drastically lower the environment impacts associated with these batteries. In the particular environmental impact analysis technique (U.S. EPA) used in this analysis, nickel contributes the greatest impact, followed by cadmium. Cobalt contributes very little environmental impact at all. The lower performance batteries are, in fact, the ones being collected and recycled today, and these results suggest that in today's situation, the most effective way to lower environmental impacts is to increase the recycling rate. Steady improvements in the performance of batteries will also mean that the batteries being produced today and collected 5 to 10 years from now will pose less risk to the environment than those being collected now. Finally, the individual environmental impact contributions of nickel, cadmium and cobalt in this example are based on assumptions and are somewhat fixed by the battery system. It probably will not be possible to vary, for example, NiCd battery chemistry in a manner significant enough to have as major an effect on total life cycle risk as the degree of recycling and battery performance have.
From the foregoing analysis, it is concluded that the most effective methods to reduce total battery life cycle environmental impacts are to increase recycling rates, to improve battery performance, and to lower hazardous material contents provided that this does not compromise battery performance. It is further concluded that the waste battery disposal step is, by far, the single most important factor in determining the total environmental and human health impact of a battery system over its entire life cycle. Finally, it must be noted that present-day environmental impact assessments of battery systems rely on enormous assumptions regarding battery composition, battery performance, and the environment impacts of battery materials. Until such a time as standards are developed for life cycle analyses of battery systems, it will be almost meaningless to compare battery systems on this basis, unless assumptions are clearly stated and analyses are applied in a uniform manner. It will also be necessary to accurately determine the actual contributions made in all of the various life cycle stages of a battery instead of being forced to assume that they are negligible because of lack of accurate and pertinent information.
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Used Battery Collection and Recycling G. Pistoia, J.-P. Wiaux and S.P. Wolsky (Editors) ©2001 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.
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