The Environmental Protection Agency says that lithium-ion batteries are rather harmful in several ways.
Cartoon-ish Image of Lithium-ion Battery Pack
The EPA report, titled "Application of Life-Cycle Assessment to Nanoscale Technology: Lithium-ion Batteries for Electric Vehicles," (PDF link) suggests that a full life-cycle analysis of lithium-ion batteries shows "resource depletion, global warming, ecological toxicity and human health impacts."
Could it be Harmful to Make These?
The report further says that the nickel and cobalt cathodes within lithium-ion batteries "may cause adverse respiratory, pulmonary and neurological effects in those exposed."
Of course, similar statements can be made in regards to millions of products out there, as it seems everything is harmful in some way these days.
At least the EPA says the potentially harmful cathode issue could be solved with nano technology, though that will require a great deal of development work since nano technology is not yet at the commercially viable level for automotive lithium-ion batteries.
The focus here though is on life-cycle analysis, which means that the EPA calculated the energy required to manufacture the electric vehicle and all of its necessary components. The EPA then adds in the amount and sources of energy used in operation and the energy required to recycle the vehicle and all of its components at the end of its useful life.
So, it's not just the production aspect of lithium-ion batteries that is being examined here. We suspect that most of the EPA's findings stem from the lithium-ion recycling side, which if not carried out correctly, can indeed be harmful. But are lithium-ion batteries really all that harmful? We doubt it, but we're glad to see the EPA being proactive here by conducting this study and publishing results well before millions of lithium-ion vehicles are out on the roads.