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States take matters into their own hands to ban toxic ‘forever chemicals’

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Monday, June 5, 2023

At least 106 laws have passed in 24 states banning or restricting the use of forever chemicals, which are linked to health risks but commonly found in products.

At least 106 laws have passed in 24 states banning or restricting the use of forever chemicals, which are linked to health risks but commonly found in products.

At least 106 laws have passed in 24 states banning or restricting the use of forever chemicals, which are linked to health risks but commonly found in products.
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New battery recycling rules could be a game-changer in the EU’s search for EV minerals

The regulations could ease demand for mining and jump-start battery recycling worldwide.

The clean energy transition will require lots of batteries — primarily to power electric vehicles and to store renewable energy that can be dispatched to the electric grid on demand. European Union policymakers are growing more concerned about where the bloc will get all the metals required to build those batteries. One potential source? Dead lithium-ion batteries from EVs, e-bikes, and consumer electronics, which contain lithium, cobalt, nickel, and other ingredients needed to make new ones. Recycling the metals used in batteries has the potential to limit the need for environmentally damaging mining while also reducing electronic waste. But Europe’s lithium-ion battery recycling industry is in its infancy. While manufacturers sold nearly 700,000 tons of lithium-ion batteries into the European market last year, recyclers only had the capacity to process about 17,000 tons of battery waste, according to Circular Energy Storage, a data analysis firm for the battery industry. New rules that entered force last month could help change that. After years of negotiations, the EU just adopted a comprehensive battery regulation that could spur battery recycling at a scale never seen before outside of China. Battery industry experts say the policy has the potential to supercharge lithium-ion battery recycling across the bloc.  The EU’s new battery rules “will make a very big impact for the whole supply chain not only in Europe but also globally,” Xiao Lin, CEO of the Chinese battery metal recycling consultancy Botree Cycling, told Grist.  Used batteries sit in a battery recycling plant in Montreal, Quebec on January 17, 2023. MATHIEW LEISER / AFP via Getty Images The battery regulation replaces a 2006 policy that focused on minimizing the health risks caused by hazardous battery ingredients like lead and cadmium. The new rules reflect the larger role that batteries, particularly lithium-ion ones, play in society today, and the EU’s desire to ensure they are sustainable throughout their entire life cycle, from manufacturing to disposal. The regulation requires manufacturers to collect waste lithium-ion batteries for recycling and, in the case of EV, e-bike, and energy storage batteries, incorporate recycled materials into new ones. The battery regulation also includes ambitious metals recovery targets, pushing recyclers to use technologies that do a good job reclaiming critical resources like lithium. The regulation comes at a pivotal moment. EV sales are booming in Europe and around the world, causing demand for the metals inside their batteries to skyrocket. Hundreds of new mines may be needed to supply those metals by the mid-2030s. But mining takes a significant toll on the environment, and often, local communities. Most EU nations have limited battery metal resources, forcing them to rely on imports from countries with poor environmental and human rights track records. Waste batteries are pooled for recycling at a facility in Jieshou, China, in July 2021. Liu Junxi / Xinhua via Getty Images Battery recycling is often touted as a more sustainable way to ease long-term supply pressure. Spent EV batteries, as well as the smaller batteries inside e-bikes, power tools, smartphones, and more, are rich in the metals needed to make new ones. Today, China leads the world in lithium-ion battery recycling, thanks in part to policies that have encouraged it in the EV sector, specifically. In 2018, China’s government stipulated that EV makers are responsible for collecting dead batteries, and it set ambitious metals recovery rates that recyclers must meet to be included on a government white list. The EU is now following in China’s footsteps by directing manufacturers to ensure that batteries are collected for recycling at no charge to consumers. For consumer electronic and “light means of transport” batteries — those used in e-scooters, e-bikes, and the like — collection rates will gradually increase over the next decade. In the EV and energy storage sectors, meanwhile, manufacturers are required to take back all batteries for recycling. Bosch, which manufacturers batteries for the European e-bike industry, told Grist in an emailed statement that bicycle makers have “either already successfully introduced or are currently working on collection systems” to meet the new requirements, with e-bike battery take-back programs currently up and running in Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, and France. Recyclers, meanwhile, are required to hit stringent metal recovery targets, including 80 percent of the lithium contained in a battery, and 95 percent of its cobalt, copper, nickel and lead, by the end of 2031. Alissa Kendall, a battery recycling expert at the University of California, Davis, says that these recovery rates will push recyclers away from pyrometallurgy, an older technique in which batteries are smelted in a furnace to produce a low-quality metal alloy. Instead, Kendall expects the new rules will accelerate the industry-wide shift toward hydrometallurgy. Hydrometallurgical recyclers typically shred batteries to produce a powder called “black mass,” then separate and purify individual metals using chemical solvents. While pyrometallurgical recycling often results in significant lithium losses, recyclers using hydrometallurgy claim they can recover lithium at high rates. There are also environmental benefits: While pyrometallurgy uses considerable energy and produces toxic gases that must be captured or remediated, hydrometallurgy requires less energy and generates lower emissions (although the strong acids involved require careful disposal). A scientist poses with a beaker filled with aluminium foil, copper foil, casing particles, and a “black mass” made of used graphite, cobalt, nickel, and manganese from old lithium-ion batteries. JENS SCHLUETER / AFP via Getty Images “Our industry-leading, sustainable lithium-ion battery recycling technology is geared towards meeting lithium, cobalt, and nickel recovery targets set forth in the Battery Regulation,” a spokesperson for Canada-based battery recycler Li-Cycle told Grist in an email, adding that Europe’s regulations are “very positive for the growth of the industry.” Li-Cycle is one of several hydrometallurgical recycling companies in the process of massively expanding its presence in Europe: Last month, it opened a black mass facility in Germany and announced plans for a future recycling hub in Italy.  Recycling doesn’t have to take place in Europe as long as it meets EU standards. Lin says that many Asian recyclers are already meeting or exceeding the metal recovery rates in the European battery regulation. But Lin expects established recyclers will run into trouble with other EU standards, such as a requirement that 70 percent of the weight of batteries be recycled by the end of 2030. In China, about 65 percent of EV batteries sold today are lithium-iron-phosphate batteries, a chemistry that contains no nickel or cobalt. Aside from lithium, there’s very little in these batteries worth recycling. As a result, Lin says, recyclers are used to recovering about 3 percent of their materials by weight. “It’s very different to reach 70 percent,” Lin said. Recyclers outside of Europe that want to cater to the EU market, Lin says, may have to set up new European facilities with more advanced technologies.  In addition to mandating efficient recycling, the new battery regulation seeks to ensure that recycled materials get incorporated into new batteries. By 2031, the EU will require that new EV and storage batteries contain at least 6 percent recycled lithium and nickel, 16 percent recycled cobalt, and 85 percent recycled lead. These figures will rise to 12 percent recycled lithium, 15 percent recycled nickel, and 26 percent recycled cobalt by 2036 (at which point they will also apply to “light means of transport” batteries). But while the intent of the recycled content standards is to promote the reuse of critical resources, experts warn that they could have unintended consequences. Andy Leach, an energy storage analyst at consultancy BloombergNEF, says that if the recycled content standards are higher than what the recycling market can deliver on its own, companies might be forced to recycle batteries prematurely in order to reach them. Overly ambitious targets could also encourage battery makers to be wasteful, since the standards can be met with either end-of-life batteries or battery production scrap, which consists of cuttings and leftovers from the battery manufacturing process, as well as battery components that didn’t meet quality control standards. If there aren’t enough end-of-life batteries to meet the requirements, battery makers may be encouraged to keep generating large volumes of scrap, rather than implement efficiency improvements that reduce manufacturing waste over time.  “Recycling’s important, but we also shouldn’t rush into it if the materials aren’t there to be recycled,” Leach said.  An employee of European Metal Recycling disassembles a car battery pack into recyclable parts in Hamburg, Germany. Markus Scholz / picture alliance via Getty Images Bosch, the e-bike battery manufacturer, called the recycled content targets “very ambitious,” adding that “the availability of recycled raw materials is the biggest challenge” to meeting them.  In particular, the achievability of the recycled content standards will depend on the return of heavy, mineral-rich EV batteries for recycling. But these batteries are long lived, and they are often repurposed for a second application like grid storage, meaning it could be years before large numbers of them are ready to be recycled. Li-Cycle told Grist that the company expects manufacturing scrap to represent “the bulk of our feedstock” over the next few years, with end-of-life EV batteries becoming more important in the 2030s. BASF, a German battery materials maker that is expanding its battery recycling operations, told Grist that it also “plans to recycle scrap” from battery production until more dead EV batteries are available. While recycled content standards may encourage waste if they’re too aggressive, Kendall of UC Davis emphasized the importance of these standards for improving the economics of recycling. By placing a premium on recycled lithium and other metals, the standards could “increase the value globally for recycled materials,” she said. In a best-case scenario, that might help other emerging battery recycling markets become more economically viable over the long term. Those include the United States, where several companies are now building huge new plants to recycle EV batteries despite no federal mandates. (U.S. recyclers are, however, being supported by big federal loans.) Despite uncertainties, many in the industry are hopeful that the new EU regulation will help battery recycling reach the scale needed to ease future mining pressure. Kurt Vandeputte, senior vice president of battery recycling solutions at the Belgian-based metals company Umicore, called the regulation “a smart way of saying that we have to be careful and we have to create a closed loop of critical materials.” “It’s going to be the blueprint for many other industries,” Vandeputte said. This story was originally published by Grist with the headline New battery recycling rules could be a game-changer in the EU’s search for EV minerals on Sep 19, 2023.

New EPA watchdog report says refineries can’t police themselves

Many of these refineries are located in and around neighborhoods of color.

For decades, communities living in the shadows of the nation’s petroleum refineries were in the dark about the quality of the air that they breathed. Residents in places like Port Arthur, Texas, and Artesia, New Mexico, could sense their exposure to toxic pollution on days when the air was thick with the sweet smell of benzene, a carcinogen. But access to information on the actual levels of chemicals in the air — data that could help vulnerable individuals make critical decisions regarding their health — was largely unavailable. That changed in 2018, when the federal Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, began requiring refinery operators to monitor concentrations of benzene around the fencelines of their facilities — and, crucially, to publish the results of those measurements online. Since then, benzene concentrations near the country’s 118 refineries have trended downward. However, a lack of enforcement and a dearth of monitoring data has still left some communities behind, according to a new report from the Office of the Inspector General, or OIG, the EPA’s internal watchdog.The report authors analyzed data from 18 refineries that exceeded the federal benzene “action level” — the level above which operators are required to take corrective measures — between January 2018 and September 2021. They found that 13 of them continued to violate federal standards in 20 or more weeks after their initial violation. Many of these refineries, the report noted, are located in and around neighborhoods of color. The report raises doubts that merely asking companies to collect and report their own data as well as analyze the causes of their own violations, as the 2018 fenceline monitoring requirement did, will lead them to keep their toxic emissions below permissible levels.Environmental advocates argue that such measures must be accompanied by robust enforcement action from the EPA.“Even if it has helped a little bit, it’s not enough,” said Ana Parras, co-director of the Houston-based Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Group, of the agency’s fenceline monitoring requirements. “The lack of enforcement, it’s always been there.”The report comes as the EPA has made efforts to incorporate similar fenceline monitoring requirements into other air pollution regulations. Most recently, the agency proposed to require monitoring in a rule that covers many of the nation’s most toxic chemical plants, a high percentage of which are concentrated in the industrial corridors of Texas and Louisiana. Like the regulations for petroleum refineries, these rules would require operators to analyze the cause of their violations and submit a “corrective action plan” to the agency if they continue to violate federal standards.When the EPA issued updated regulations for petroleum refineries in 2015, it was the first time that operators of large industrial facilities were required to monitor and report their toxic emissions. The new rules were seen as a novel approach to pollution reduction: Until that point, refinery pollution was controlled through various technologies designed to capture and eliminate emissions; with the exception of occasional facility inspections, regulators effectively took operators at their word that they were operating correctly. When the new regulations went into effect in 2018, refinery personnel had to submit measurements to the EPA every two weeks, and conduct an analysis to identify underlying problems if their average benzene levels exceeded the federal action level of 9 micrograms per cubic meter of air over that period. The advent of these requirements surfaced information that was previously unavailable to the public and regulators alike. As the data slowly came online, it became clear that the emissions around certain refineries were severe, in some cases exceeding federal standards for many months on end.Despite this, state and federal regulators failed to curb a number of these emissions. The OIG report pointed to several potential reasons for this, including operators’ failures to identify the cause of their emissions and limited enforcement action by the EPA. In some cases, enforcement was stymied by the fact that refinery operators did not submit monitoring results at all. In others, they estimated nearby industrial plants’ contributions to airbore benzene levels using computer models, instead of actual air monitors, as required by the law. A failure to reduce benzene levels could cause serious long-term health effects in communities near refineries, according to the report. Benzene is just one of a litany of chemicals released during the process of refining crude oil. Prolonged exposure over years has been linked to leukemia and other cancers of the blood, and breathing high concentrations of benzene in the short term can cause shortness of breath, headaches, and dizziness. Parras told Grist that residents of cities like Port Arthur and nearby Baytown, Texas, are no strangers to these symptoms. According to the OIG report, Texas is home to 9 out of the 25 refineries where benzene levels exceeded the action level at least once.“There’s days that you go down there and the smell is so powerful, people don’t want to get off the bus,” Parras said. “This is life on the fence line.”In its report, the OIG recommended that the EPA improve its approach to addressing unsafe levels of benzene near refineries by providing better guidance to state and local regulators on what constitutes a violation and how to identify gaps in the data that companies submit. The report also advised the agency to develop a strategy to address refineries that continually exceed federal standards. The OIG wrote that the EPA had agreed with its set of recommendations, and that it considered them to be “resolved with corrective actions pending.”This story was originally published by Grist with the headline New EPA watchdog report says refineries can’t police themselves on Sep 18, 2023.

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