Sustainable e-Bikes: Fact or Fiction?

by Jan 20, 2023Global phenomena, Uncategorized0 comments

Sustainable behaviour is just like riding a bike, right? Well, think again.

In a world where Electric Vehicles and Biofuels pave the way to a more sustainable existence, e-Bikes join the movement as well.

Riding a bicycle is an activity that is almost always associated with fun times, ease of transportation, and a green way of covering distances. From the moment we learn how to ride it, we feel that it opens a lot of possibilities regarding transportation both on and off-road and it doesn’t require propulsion, besides our physical ability.

As anyone would imagine, with time and technological advancements, bikes have also improved, their production being switched towards stronger, more durable materials and the addition of extra features, such as batteries.

However, material strength and durability don’t necessarily condone the principles of sustainability, refurbishment, or recycling. Specialized materials usually lead to specialized carbon-intensive procedures in both production and recycling.

electric mountain bike

What should consumers look for when buying a e-Bike? What should producers strive for and what should they avoid when creating products for consumers?

According to multiple sources, the debate boils down to two perspectives: Aluminum versus Carbon Fiber and the threat of batteries.

Carbon Fiber

The first problem requires us to take a broader perspective. When it comes to competitive performance and utilization within an increasingly intensive environment, Carbon Fiber wins, due to its physical properties. Aluminum possesses different capacities, being overall softer, giving in to the tensions of the outside environment.

However, an aspect that people tend to overlook is material sourcing. Carbon Fiber is a derivative of crude oil . Thus, the production of this material requires oil extraction procedures and infrastructure. This is a process which is both financially and environmentally extensive.

Aluminum

Aluminum is not far from Carbon Fiber in terms of environmental damage in the extracting process. This material is obtained through Bauxite extraction. This is an extensive procedure, both financially and environmentally, because, after the excavation has ended, great masses of waste have accumulated in the form of red mud and bauxite dust. At the moment these pollutants are not properly contained and disposed of. This means that they are left behind to damage the environment and are growing exponentially with the ongoing extraction processes.

Recyclability and Sustainability

However, there is one extremely significant difference between these two materials. Looking at them from the sustainability and recyclability perspective, studies and analyses have shown that Aluminum products have a great advantage. Upon undergoing wear and damage, a Carbon Fiber product will have to undergo several physical, thermic, and chemical processes. It needs to be stripped of several additional materials and ‘re-knitted’ in order to regain its previous strength.

Aluminum, on the other side, is much easier to recycle and refurbish. Since it possesses a lower melting point than other metals, it is much easier to melt, repour and reinforce if necessary. However, Aluminum does not have the same physical strength as Carbon Fiber and can bend under great pressure.

All things considered, the next significant threat to environmentalism in terms of e-Bikes is the batteries.

Electric batteries are composed of an array of special materials and elements such as Lithium and Cobalt. These types of materials are particularly difficult to obtain and require various manual mining operations. They are often performed by undertrained people in life-threatening situations, with many human rights being violated.

Battery Recycling

To minimize these impacts, on the environment and human rights at the same time, various recycling procedures can be applied to batteries also. There are three main strategies for battery recycling: Pyrometallurgy, Hydrometallurgy, and Direct Recycling. Pyrometallurgy and Direct Recycling are fairly energy-efficient procedures, however, the overall efficiency lies in the 40-50% range. The Hydrometallurgy process, however, has an estimated resource recovery rate of 95%. This procedure consists of several chemical processes which separate components. This enables them to be reused in the fabrication of other batteries. Compared to Pyrometallurgy, Hydrometallurgy has the advantage of a much smaller carbon footprint. The process of Pyrometallurgy requires batteries or specific alloys to undergo strong thermic treatment, which might release noxious fumes into the atmosphere.

Conclusion

Overall, regardless of the type of bicycle, e-Bike, e-Mountain bike, or anything similar, the value retention principle can be fairly easily applied considering correct decisions are made. In the world of today, a lot of emphasis is put on quantity over quality. This results in a very short product lifespan and value retention cycle. Products and companies tend to follow the Take-Make-Waste principle, not focusing on resource potential maximization. By switching to the Cradle-to-Cradle principle and making use of the Five Business Models of Circularity, companies will have the opportunity to streamline several processes and maximize revenue by cutting stakeholder relationships, despite the production costs increase. They would be able to generate, create and re-create value in their own environment, resulting in better product quality, increasingly sustainable practices, and a positive image in societies that are growing more and more interested in sustainably produced products.

We need to raise awareness regarding matters as such and follow the appropriate course of action in order to minimize and contain the negative effects both from an individual perspective and also as a company employee. Here at 2030Builders, we specialize in unraveling the lesser-known perspectives of sustainability as well as offering sustainable solutions and guidance.

Resources:

https://www.britannica.com/technology/hydrometallurgy

https://www.vtuvia.com/othercate/othername/Dealers.html?gclid=EAIaIQobChMImLTKsu6k9gIVR5nVCh2-0AcYEAAYASAAEgLN1vD_BwE

https://www.pedalsure.com/blog/can-you-repair-a-carbon-bike

https://www.theproscloset.com/blogs/news/frame-material-carbon-vs-aluminum

https://www.pinkbike.com/news/aluminum-vs-carbon-separating-environmental-fact-from-fiction-in-the-frame-materials-debate.html

https://www.singletracks.com/mtb-trails/how-sustainable-are-the-batteries-in-e-bikes-and-other-mtb-gadgets-we-asked-a-battery-expert/

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