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The Future Of Lithium And Electric Cars In Malta: But At What Cost?

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Malta, along with many other countries in the world, is currently pushing for electric car use as part of the Low Carbon Development Strategy targets for 2050. 

However, like everything in life, there are always positive and negative consequences, and electric car batteries are powered by a type of metal known as lithium.

Lovin Malta spoke with the Director of the Institute for Sustainable Energy at the University of Malta, Prof. Luciano Mule Stagno, to offer a concise breakdown of what goes into powering electric cars. 

“Most metals are not something we want to just dump into the environment, and lithium is definitely no exception,” he said.

He mentioned how the majority of Li-ion batteries utilise other heavy metals, such as cobalt. Cobalt is a chemical element, which is often used in metal alloys.

“I think the biggest impact of Li-ion batteries on the environment if anything will be mining. There have already been several high profile cases where the land around mines has been polluted by salts or other chemicals used in the mining,” Mule Stagno outlined.

However, the pollution from car use is significantly lower when making use of an electric car, as opposed to a car fuelled by fuel such as petrol and diesel.

“The good news is that this will be a mammoth industry. Literally, billions of batteries will be needed, which will, in turn, create favourable conditions for recycling,” he said.

Keeping in mind that lithium is very expensive, this should add incentives to recycle it, but these are not yet in place. Lithium will become significantly more sustainable once it starts being recycled appropriately.

“For comparison, current car batteries made out of the lead, which is considered to be a very toxic metal, each have around 10-20kg of lead. The world literally has billions of these, but luckily the vast majority is recycled,” he explained.

Once Li-ion batteries reach the same levels of high volumes, a recycling process will definitely be required.

Lithium definitely has some distinct advantages over lead, especially in terms of the CO2 and other gases emitted by combustion engines. It is not toxic, batteries made from lithium last longer and the fact that it is relatively expensive will hopefully create a stimulus for efficient recycling.

The next step towards incentivising the use of electric cars in Malta is to establish an efficient mode of recycling so that the waste from used batteries will not end up back in the environment.

What do you make of this? 

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When Sasha (formerly known as Sasha Tas-Sigar) is not busy writing about environmental injustice, she's probably fighting for women's rights. Follow her at @saaxhaa on Instagram, and send her anything related to the environment, art, and women's rights at [email protected]

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