The Ubiquity of Lithium-Ion Batteries — Here’s the List. How Many Are In Your Home?

I’ve always considered myself to be on the fringe of the interconnected mobile world. Then I counted the number of lithium-ion batteries in my home . . .

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After my recent post about the new green energy economy, I was curious about my own consumption of lithium-ion batteries. My sister was also interested and we each estimated how many of these batteries we had in our homes. After this uninformed estimate, we considered again given items she’d found in various online lists. I’m pretty confident that if you do the same, you’ll have similar results to ours — your initial estimate will be lower than your count after going through the list below. Even for someone like me who has never had a cell phone, doesn’t have a “smart” home in any way, and believed I’d stayed on the margin of our interconnected mobile world, these batteries are surprisingly pervasive in my life. And everyone I spoke with came up with a new item for me to add to the list. For example, my daughter pointed out that my luggage has batteries built into it for charging devices while sitting in an airport or hotel. I rarely travel now but I remember thinking this was a fantastic idea when I bought the luggage.

You may wonder: does it really matter? Certainly it does when we’re talking about the very large lithium-ion batteries in EVs, or the enormous aggregated number for wind turbines and solar panels, or the massive ones for central storage for the electrical grid. But what about these smaller batteries for things that we use everyday?

Initially developed in the 1970s at Exxon, lithium-ion batteries were first commercially produced by Sony in the 1990s for small-scale consumer electronics. Lithium and cobalt are essential to all three of the dominant forms of rechargeable batteries used today. Lithium is the lightest alkali metal in the world and provides the highest voltage. Cobalt provides stability at high energy densities so the battery can be repeatedly recharged without catching fire. It also gives us longer periods of operation between charges. The three types of lithium-ion rechargeable batteries are lithium cobalt oxide (LCO), lithium nickel manganese cobalt oxide (L-NMC), and lithium nickel cobalt aluminum oxide (L-NCA). The amount of lithium in each of these is about 7%. The amount of cobalt in them can be as much as 60%. (See the previous post on mining for cobalt here.)

The breadth and depth of the lithium-ion battery’s penetration into so many facets of everyday life in wealthier countries has been profound. Along with the introduction of the iPhone in 2007 and Android smartphones in 2008, the 2010 release of Apple’s iPAD and Samsung’s Galaxy Tab made the batteries indispensable for interconnectivity and mobility. Each of the billions of smartphones sold contains a few grams of refined cobalt and each of the billions of tablets sold contain as much as thirty grams of refined cobalt in the lithium-ion battery. Billions of laptops, plus e-scooters and e-bikes, plus everything else on the list below sums to tens of thousands of tons of refined cobalt every year. And that’s before we get to what is used in the lithium-ion batteries for EVs, wind turbines, solar panels, and massive batteries for renewables storage for the grid.

Below is the list as it stands so far in case you too are interested in the ubiquity of lithium-ion batteries in today’s world and in your own home. Being conscious of something enables us to be intentional regarding it. That way, the next time something you currently possess that uses a lithium-ion battery wears out you can think seriously about whether there’s a real need to replace it. You can also look at your list and see if there’s an item you never use that you could give to someone else who is planning to buy one and therefore prevent the need for the extraction of more minerals and the manufacture of yet another battery. Just recognizing that everything that’s rechargeable or cordless most likely is that way because it uses a lithium-ion battery allows us to act with knowledge and forethought regarding the damage we’re doing to the environment and the lives of people who can’t afford to purchase these products or have electricity with which to charge them.

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List of Common Items Using Lithium-Ion Rechargeable Batteries:

  • AirPods
  • Amazon Echo, Dot, or Alexa
  • bluetooth headsets
  • bluetooth music players
  • boats/marine vehicles, like yachts
  • cable boxes
  • calculators
  • cell phones
  • children’s toys
  • clocks
  • computer peripherals (mouse, keyboard, touchpad, etc.)
  • cordless appliances
  • cordless phones
  • diffusers or automatic air sprayers
  • digital cameras
  • digital photo frame
  • drones (for consumer use)
  • dvd player (portable)
  • handheld gaming devices
  • e-cigarettes and vaping devices
  • e-Bikes
  • electric toothbrushes
  • e-Readers
  • extra batteries (for cameras, recorders, power tools, etc.)
  • flashlights
  • game controllers
  • golf carts and trolleys 
  • hearing aids
  • hoverboards
  • iPods
  • laptops
  • LiFePO4 Batteries- one type of “leisure vehicle battery”- the power source used to run the appliances inside a motorhome. All electrical appliances like TVs, ovens, kettles and even lights inside a motorhome need a 12V electrical supply provided by a leisure vehicle battery.
  • luggage with built-in batteries for charging devices
  • massage guns, neck massagers, etc.
  • motion-sensing lights
  • outdoor lamps (portable)
  • pet toys
  • phone chargers 
  • power packs (portable)
  • power tools (cordless)
  • scooters
  • smartwatches
  • smart lights
  • smart locks
  • smart switches
  • smoke/fire/carbon monoxide detectors that last years 
  • solar power backup storage
  • speakers or sound system (portable)
  • surveillance and alarm systems
  • tablets
  • torches
  • Uninterrupted Power Supply (UPS) or emergency power backup
  • vacuum cleaners (cordless) or robotic vacuums
  • vibrators
  • video cameras
  • wheelchairs
  • wireless headphones
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4 thoughts on “The Ubiquity of Lithium-Ion Batteries — Here’s the List. How Many Are In Your Home?

  1. I challenge readers to write here how many they have. Let’s try to see how ubiquitous these really are. No judgement! We have all been told these batteries are the latest and greatest things to use for so long…

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