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Opinion: Electric car batteries, we’re at a crossroads

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Quebec’s plan to electrify transportation definitely has the wind in its sails.

But there’s a storm brewing on the horizon: once the first generations of electric cars are retired from our roads, what will be done with the massive amount of used batteries?

We’re talking about a major challenge here.

By 2030, Quebec will have to contend with an estimated 73,000 electric vehicle batteries that will have reached the end of their life.

Équiterre is working hard to ensure that Quebec’s electrification plans take into account the full value of electric car batteries to get the most use possible out of them and thereby limit the extraction of the strategic metals needed to manufacture new ones.

Over the coming months, the government will reveal how it plans to tackle this challenge, through a regulatory reform of the Extended Producer Responsibility principle - the EPR for short.

WHAT IS EPR

EPR is a way to hold businesses accountable for the goods they produce.

Among other things, it dictates how these goods must be managed once they reach the end of their life.

The concept isn’t new. We already have EPR regulations for electronics and paint cans, for example.

As for the responsibility for electric vehicle batteries, the Quebec government is currently drafting new rules to regulate the automobile industry to determine how these batteries will be managed in the coming years.

We are concerned about the pace of discussions surrounding this crucial component of transportation electrification in Quebec.

In our opinion, the consultation process was far too brief to result in adequate policy.

WORTH THEIR WEIGHT IN COLD

The current EPR regulations are not strong enough to ensure that we squeeze as much life as possible out of these batteries.

Under the current plan, electric vehicle battery recovery is based on a ten-year lifespan.

Ten years is an arbitrary figure and there is a risk that batteries may be retired prematurely rather than doing all we can to extend their useful life.

Electric car batteries should not be removed from vehicles before it is absolutely necessary.

We’re also calling for new targets in the new EPR plan that encourage reuse.

Squeezing more life out of an object is the most effective way of shrinking its environmental footprint.

If there are no reuse targets baked into the plan, we won’t get the results we need.

We need mechanisms to encourage reuse.

Electronics are a good example of how poorly our systems encourage reuse.

According to the latest data, only 10 per cent of the electronics recovered under the EPR got a second life.

Once they can no longer power a car, electric vehicle batteries could live a second life elsewhere, before being recycled.

They can be used to store solar or wind energy, or to power smaller modes of transportation, such as boats.

Electric batteries are worth their weight in gold.

The risk of wasting these valuable resources is great, but the opportunity is greater still to get the most out of them without adversely impacting the climate and the environment.

The Legault government must seize this opportunity.

Signatories:

Amélie Côté, Analyst, Reduction at the source, Équiterre

Andréanne Brazeau, Analyst, Sustainable mobility, Équiterre

Valérie Tremblay, Intern, Sustainable mobility, Équiterre 

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