Electricity Storage – Enormous Opportunities, Some Risks

Millions of batteries of all sizes, chemical compositions (lead acid, nickel cadmium, nickel metal hydride, mercury, lithium ion/, …) have been produced for a variety of purposes in industrialized countries.Many of them were consumed in developing and emerging countries: in flashlights, radios, small motorcycles, cars and trucks, electricity storage for remote areas. Since 20 years batteries for solar systems and mini power grids also need batteries as buffers.

In developing countries and emerging economies the cost degression of Lithium-Ion batteries will make decentralized grids even more viable and open the use of renewable energy sources for completely new applications in mobility, agriculture and the decentralized production of goods.

Batteries contains nickel, cobalt, copper, rare earth and other valuable materials in small quantities. Their recycling is financially viable only if larger quantities are collected, sorted and professionally handled. Lithium-Ion batteries batteries are harzardous goods and currently have to be transported to Europe for recycling under special precautions. However, collection poses a challenge since the residual value of used batteries is low and no deposit is used as an incentive to return old batteries. New ideas and business models must be introduced to avoid widespread pollution by uncontrolled disposal of batteries, most urgently lead-acid batteries, but also other sorts of batteries.

Lead-acid batteries, mainly from automobiles, pose a significant threat to the health of children and adults. Lead is widely dispersed by the emptying the acid from the batteries into the environment and melting the lead from the batteries, often in open fires.

The principles of a Circular Economy demand more Extended Producer Responsibility and innovative business models like leasing, sharing, pay-per-use etc.. Information and communication technologies (ICT) make these business models feasible even in poorer economies. Think tanks such as the African Center for Economic Transformation are already addressing the opportunities for Ghana and Africa and are on their way to seeing the Circular Economy as a development opportunity.