Tech Topic Series: Eco-Design for Circular Electronics Economy, Webinar #4
iNEMI’s Eco-Design for Circular Electronics Economy is a series of three interactive webinars featuring experts from leading organizations that are doing innovative/beyond-compliance eco-design work. The series will be an avenue for eco-design leaders to showcase their thought processes, strategies, successes and failures. The goal is to capture the best and most innovative practices being used today and to highlight the processes these leaders follow to determine where to focus their eco-design efforts. All webinars will be recorded for broader distribution and exposure. Download an introduction to the series.
September 9, 2021
David Schönmayr, Program Lead for Sustainability, Fronius
Maxwell Giammona, Lead Scientist, Heavy-Metal-Free Battery Research, IBM
David Schönmayr of Fronius shared details about how the company (1) defines product sustainability and circularity, (2) measures product sustainability and (3) improves sustainability and circularity of products. He described the factors that play a role in sustainable development goals (SDGs) — including design, sourcing, manufacturing logistics, product use, and end of life — noting that “evidence-based sustainability along the entire product life cycle is only possible with facts, facts, facts.“
To illustrate, David shared the life cycle assessment (LCA) process used for the Fronius Primo GEN24 Plus 6.0 from Fronius’ photovoltaics business unit. This LCA included analysis of several scenarios based on different options/choices for: (1) production location, (2) the PV system (conventional vs more sustainable), (3) the specific Fronius system used, and (4) type of waste (landfill, thermal waste treatment, recycling with disassembly of six main parts, etc.). With potential choices of four inverters, seven countries and five waste scenarios there were 140 variants to be assessed. In addition, this inverter has 490 components/2533 pieces.
The 130-page LCA report involved 40-50 people, took a year to complete and concluded that:
• The environmental benefit exceeds the impact by a factor of 5.3 – 26 times
• Between 1,640 and 16,932 kg CO2e are saved with one GEN24 Plus
• The payback time of climate impacts is in the range of 0.8 to 3.7 years
Finally, David illustrated the generic process for reaching sustainability goals which includes: data, sustainability checklists, product development and production.
Maxwell Giammona presented information about IBM Research’s project to develop a heavy metal-free battery, which is expected to be faster-charging, safer, and more sustainable than current li-ion battery technologies. Today, most commercial rechargeable lithium batteries are based on metal-oxide intercalation cathodes, flammable liquid electrolyte and low-energy-density graphite anodes. IBM’s heavy metal-free battery uses a lithium iodide (LiI) active cathode that relies on iodine conversion chemistry. This process results in less flammable (safer) electrolytes; is an electrocatalyst, which stabilizes SEI and promotes redox reactions; and provides a high energy density Li-metal anode.
The LiI battery also offers significant advantages for recycling. Batteries featured prominently in the Europeans Union’s recently released Circular Economy Action Plan, which said that “…batteries placed on the EU market should become sustainable, high-performing and safe all along their entire life cycle . . . and at the end of their life, should be repurposed, remanufactured or recycled, feeding valuable materials back into the economy.”
Current li-ion battery recycling is driven by their heavy metal content. As this content is reduced to cut costs, recycling will become more challenging. An iodine-based battery lends itself well to a circular economy and has several benefits in terms of recyclability due to the potential for facile iodine recovery using already in use aqueous leaching methods. Extraction of Iodine is less environmentally taxing than mining of heavy metals, making this kind of cathode potentially more sustainable over its entire life cycle from raw materials sourcing to recycling.