/The battery revolution

The battery revolution

By Jim Poling Sr.
From Shaman’s Rock

Now that the gas-powered lawn mowers, grass trimmers and leaf blowers are being tucked away for winter, I’m wondering how many will be back out next spring.

A revolution in lawn and garden care is about to happen. Battery-operated lawn and garden tools are becoming increasingly practical and popular, creating major change in how we tend to our properties.

The shift to battery-powered tools already is well underway. 

Toolmaker Stanley Black and Decker estimates the volume of electric-powered lawn equipment shipped by North American manufacturers increased 75 per cent between 2015 and 2020. During that time electric went from 32 per cent to 44 percent of the overall lawn equipment market.

Market research shows that cordless, battery-operated lawnmower sales will grow by at least five per cent, and likely more, over the next few years. Worldwide sales of $1,067 million in 2019 are forecast to hit $1,311 million by 2025.

A division of MarketResearch.com says that the battery-powered lawn equipment sector is growing three times faster than gas.

That’s happy news for anyone who has tried to sit out in the October sun while a neighbour attacks fallen leaves with a gas-powered back-pack leaf blower that sounds like a jumbo jet.

Hearing loss campaigns say gasoline leaf blower noise from a distance of 15 metres (50 feet) ranges from 64 to 78 decibels. The blower operator hears 95 to 115 decibels. Noises 85 decibels and above can harm hearing.

Battery-powered leaf blowers are gaining popularity not just because they are quieter.

They are easy to start and stop and do not emit the pollution of gasoline blowers.

There’s no fussy mess of mixing oil and gas.

The California Air Resources Board estimates that operating a gas leaf blower for one hour creates as much pollution as driving a Toyota Camry 1,770 kilometres. And, the U.S. transportation department says that in 2018, Americans burned nearly three billion gallons of gasoline running lawn and garden equipment.

California, home to 14.4 million small engines used mainly in landscaping, has passed a law requiring them to be zero-emission by 2024.

The decline of gasoline blowers and mowers will eliminate some air pollution, but battery-operated tools bring other forms of environmental damage. These batteries require heavy metals such as lithium, cobalt and nickel and extracting these from the earth can be damaging to land, water, wildlife and people.

Much of the world’s lithium is found roughly 10 metres beneath the briny lakes of high-altitude salt flats. It is mined by drilling and pumping the brine to surface evaporation ponds where it becomes a salty mud containing lithium salts and other minerals. 

Pumping the brine requires water – as much as 500,000 gallons to produce each tonne of lithium. There also are concerns that the mining process can contaminate streams and farming areas.

One lithium extraction operation in Tibet poisoned a river killing fish and livestock, leading villagers to protest in the streets.

Another problem with recyclable batteries is how to recycle them after they are spent. Most now are simply thrown into garbage dumps.

In Australia, for example, only two to three present of lithium-ion batteries are collected for recycling. The North American and European rates are not much higher. 

This is a looming serious issue because many of the lithium batteries now in use are not near the end of their service lives. Eleven million metric tonnes of lithium-ion batteries are expected to expire by 2030, creating a huge issue of what to do with them.

Various companies are working on ways to recycle recyclable batteries but more money and brain power must be put to that effort or we will be simply replacing one pollution problem with another.

Solving the problem becomes more urgent when you consider that tools are not the only things now using batteries. The electric car market is surging with 2.6 million units sold in the first half of this year, representing 26 per cent of all global auto sales.

That growth will continue, creating millions of more battery cells requiring recycling instead of disposal in dumps. Forecasters say world electric vehicle sales are on track to surpass five million vehicles this year.