Ministry weighs environmental cost of hazardous EV batteries

The Ministry of Environment used to allow the import of EV batteries, on the condition that another car part had to be imported alongside the battery. (Photo: Shutterstock)
The Ministry of Environment used to allow the import of EV batteries, on the condition that another car part had to be imported alongside the battery. (Photo: Shutterstock)
AMMAN — The Ministry of Environment recently announced that it is studying the possibility of allowing imports of used electric car batteries in Jordan.اضافة اعلان

Electric vehicle (EV) batteries, made up of lithium-ion cells, are used to power electric vehicles and hybrid electric vehicles. The batteries, however, can’t be treated like normal waste and instead have to be specially disposed of to avoid the release of toxic chemicals into the environment. EV batteries could also harm the environment after their lifespan has ended. 

A study published by the scientific journal Nature estimated that 250,000 tons of waste will result from the one million EV batteries sold in 2017 alone after their lifespan ends. Additionally, a 2019 study published by ScienceDirect found that many recyclers have reported fires caused by lithium-ion batteries stockpiled at landfills, outlining the need for a solution to disposing of batteries in landfills. 

Mahmoud Alzbon, the president of the Hazardous Waste Management Facility, which operates under the Department of Hazardous Substances and Waste at the Ministry of Environment, told Jordan News in an interview over the phone that banning the importation of used EV batteries was a decision made by the Technical Committee for Hazardous and Harmful Substances Management, based on the absence of policies on dealing with these batteries.

“These batteries started off as nickel batteries and are now lithium. They developed,” Alzbon said.

Alzbon explained that the Ministry of Environment did not have any protocols for the treatment or recycling of these batteries. He added that since these batteries are technologically new, Jordan does not have any establishments to treat them after they’re fully used.

“The ministry’s general position was not allowing [the import of] these used batteries so the country does not become a landfill, since we do not know what the danger could be in the future,” Alzbon elaborated.

Greenpeace, an international non-governmental environmental organization, has called for EV battery manufacturers to track their batteries and recycle them, as repurposing these batteries could cover the world’s energy storage needs as early as 2030, in addition to avoiding the environmental problems caused by disposing of them.

Car companies such as Nissan and Volkswagen are now recycling batteries from their electric cars. Nissan reuses EV batteries in vehicles used for transporting parts at its factories, while Volkswagen recently opened up a factory to recycle EV batteries in Germany with a projection of recycling 3,600 batteries a year.

Alzbon also told Jordan News that the ministry used to allow the import of these batteries, on the condition that another car part had to be imported alongside the battery, such as doors, a tableau, or parts of the motor. This policy was intended to discourage car vendors from importing huge amounts of these batteries.

“Car merchants have no need for the other parts, and since their focus is on the batteries then it’s a loss for them to import the other parts,” he explained.

The government currently allows a company to collect these batteries from the local market to send to countries in the EU for recycling, according to Alzbon. Other batteries confiscated by the customs department are disposed of at Swaga Landfill in southern Jordan.

 “Another reason for the refusal [to import used EV batteries] is that there is no entity in the country that inspects the efficiency of these batteries when they enter,” Alzbon said.

He elaborated that these batteries could be fully expired and there was no proper mechanism to assess the competency of used EV batteries.

According to Alzbon, the technical committee formed to assess the possibility of allowing the import of these batteries is currently studying many aspects of the situation, which he said could include having a lab test the efficiency of these batteries, limiting the number of batteries imported per person within a certain timeframe, or handing over the old damaged battery to the ministry or a specific entity referred to by the ministry in exchange for being able to import a used one. All these are suggestions currently under assessment and not confirmed, according to Alzbon. 

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