All electric vehicles (EVs) and most plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) use lithium-ion batteries as their power source. Whereas a mobile phone will be powered by a single lithium-ion battery, an EV or PHEV uses a battery pack of thousands of lithium-ion batteries working collectively. One initial piece of advice for new EV owners is to charge your lithium-ion battery slowly and only up to 80%. This will ensure a longer battery life by limiting the battery damage caused by heating. Rapid charging and associated heating gradually deactivates the lithium and also damages the graphite components. It is also advisable for safety reasons to use a professionally installed commercial charging socket that is compatible with the electronics and battery of your EV.
Commercial recycling of the components of lithium-ion batteries is difficult, but recent commercial research and development has shown that used lithium-ion batteries can be processed to release an additional 30% of energy from the dispersal of deactivated lithium films. The used reprocessed batteries are then able to be used in other applications. Also, the shortages of lithium and cobalt for batteries is likely to be offset, in the longer term, by the development of new mineral reserves and by the replacement of cobalt by other commonly available metals.
In considering the important contribution EVs make to reducing climate warming, we need to ask a question: How sustainable is the power we are using to charge our EV batteries? In New Zealand, our grid energy is mainly (84%) from sustainable sources such as hydro, so when we charge our EV we are releasing relatively small quantities of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. In contrast, in Australia only about 24% of the grid energy comes from renewable sources with the remainder from fossil fuels such as coal, and so charging the same EV in Australia will release more substantial quantities of greenhouse gases.
The established international demand for hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles such as the Toyota Mirai demonstrates why green hydrogen will have an important role in transportation. Hydrogen fuel will have an advantage in electric transportation applications requiring higher power such as long-haul trucks, ocean-going ships and long-haul planes. Such fuel-cell transportation requires green hydrogen fuel generated not from the existing petrochemical (fossil-fuel) sources, but from solar or wind energy, which split water into hydrogen and oxygen by electrolysis or catalytic photolysis. Siemens, Toshiba and other major companies are already developing such green hydrogen production technologies. Also, 13 countries so far (including Japan, USA, UK and Australia) have integrated green hydrogen into their economic planning. This also explains why the New Zealand government is planning to develop green hydrogen, not only for local use but also as an opportunity for export to countries in our region, which will struggle to meet their own domestic demand for green hydrogen.
Several of the biggest green hydrogen project developers from Saudi Arabia, Australia, EU, China and Norway have recently come together to launch the Green Hydrogen Catapult Initiative in a bid to increase the production of green hydrogen 50-fold over the next six years.