Unlike cars powered by fossil fuels, electric vehicles (EVs) emit fewer greenhouse gasses, and less noise and air pollution.
But what happens to depleted electric car batteries, and are they recyclable?
This Article Contains
- What Happens To Used Electric Car Batteries?
- Electric Car Battery Disposal: How Does The Recycling Process Work?
- Why Is It Important To Recycle Electric Car Batteries?
- Electric Car Battery Disposal: 5 FAQs
Let’s get started.
What Happens To Used Electric Car Batteries?
Here’s what happens to old batteries that were previously used to power electric cars:
Old EV batteries can be repurposed to power other devices and systems.
For example, spent electric car batteries can be used for solar panel and household energy storage. They can also be used to power electric forklifts, power grids, construction sites, and more.
However, the battery’s reuse application depends on how depleted it is. A ‘Grade C’ battery cell, for example, can only be used to power systems with low energy requirements.
Both lithium ion and lead acid batteries used in electric vehicles can be recycled — to a point.
Approximately 90% of lead acid batteries are recycled. But in lithium batteries, cobalt is the only valuable material worth recycling.
Consequently, the recycling process for lithium ion batteries is still being refined since many recycling facilities lack ways to repurpose the remaining material.
C. Stored Away
The costs of recycling batteries are high, so many scrap yards and recycling companies avoid doing it.
Alternatively, old batteries are stored at facilities like Spiers New Technologies in Oklahoma. However, there are risks with doing this since damaged or defective batteries can cause fires.
Learn more about how to dispose of a battery in a non-electric car.
Let’s take a closer look at recycling methods.
Electric Car Battery Disposal: How Does The Recycling Process Work?
There are three ways to recycle electric batteries:
- Pyrometallurgy: The car battery is exposed to high temperatures, destroying the organic and plastic components. The remaining metal components are separated by chemical processes.
- Hydrometallurgy: Liquid chemical solutions are used to separate the battery’s components. Pyrometallurgy and hydrometallurgy can be used together to recycle batteries.
- Direct recycling: Recyclers vacuum away the electrolyte and shred battery cells. Next, they use heat or solvents to remove binders and a flotation method to separate anode and cathode materials.
The benefit of this method is that it keeps the cathode mixture intact. But direct recycling has only seen minimal results and needs further refinement to be considered a viable recycling method.
Despite being costly, let’s find out why EV battery recycling is of particular importance.
Why Is It Important To Recycle Electric Car Batteries?
It’s crucial to keep electric car batteries, especially lithium ion batteries, out of landfills because they are highly toxic and flammable.
Additionally, by recycling batteries, facilities can reduce the need for raw material, including cobalt, nickel, and lithium.
Why’s this important?
The mining process for every raw material can lead to soil, air, and water pollution. For example, lithium extraction can result in significant water supply disruptions for local communities in Australia and Chile.
The EV battery production process also emits high carbon dioxide (CO2) levels. For example, producing one battery with a range of 40 kWh (e.g., Nissan Leaf) emits 2920 kg of CO2, while a 100 kWh (e.g., Tesla) emits 7300 kg of CO2.
With these compelling facts in mind, let’s go over some FAQs.
Electric Car Battery Disposal: 5 FAQs
Here are some typical electric vehicle battery disposal questions and their answers:
1. How Do Lithium Ion Batteries Work?
A lithium ion battery contains individual lithium ion cells with an electric charge. When the car’s recharging, electricity is used to make chemical changes inside the batteries. When it’s being driven, the battery pack powers the electric motor, turning the wheels.
2. How Long Does An Electric Battery Last?
In the United States, electric vehicle batteries come with a warranty lasting five to eight years.
However, current estimates show that many electric vehicle batteries can last up to 10–20 years before depleting.
3. Which Are Some Of The Best EV Battery Recycling Companies?
Here are three of the best recycling companies across the globe:
1. Redwood Materials
Redwood Materials is a battery recycling company in Nevada that focuses on retrieving, recycling, and recirculating crucial battery material like copper, nickel, and cobalt.
Redwood is working with Ford Motor and Geely Automobile’s Volvo Cars to recover materials from spent electric batteries so they can be used to power new batteries.
Li-Cycle is a lithium ion battery recycling company with the goal of making electric vehicle batteries truly sustainable products.
This company only uses the hydrometallurgy method to recover more than 95% of all minerals in lithium ion batteries.
3. Ascend Elements
Ascend Elements is an innovative battery manufacturing and recycling company that uses recycled material from old lithium ion batteries to produce new battery products.
Their patented Hydro-to-Cathode™ technology produces new cathode materials from old EV batteries more efficiently than traditional methods. This way, they can return critical minerals to the battery supply chain.
4. What Are Some Challenges Faced In EV Battery Recycling?
Here are some of the challenges that electric car battery recycling facilities face:
A. Time-Consuming Processes
EV batteries come in various shapes and sizes, making the disassembling and recycling process time-consuming.
Unfortunately, this also raises the cost of the battery material to the point where battery manufacturing companies prefer buying new battery materials over recycled material.
B. Expensive Transport Costs
EV batteries are costly to transport. In fact, transportation charges account for approximately 40% of the total recycling expenses.
Why are electric car batteries so expensive to ship?
The lithium in EV batteries makes them highly flammable. As a result, they need to be stored and transported correctly. Not doing so can lead to fire risks, fatalities, profit losses, and more.
C. Hazardous Waste Concerns
The recycling process for lithium ion batteries leaves behind a ton of leftover material (manganese, nickel, and lithium) that’ll eventually end up in landfills.
Additionally, both pyrometallurgy and hydrometallurgy require a lot of energy and create hazardous waste, further polluting the environment.
5. What Are The Policies Around Recycling Electric Car Batteries?
Given the high costs and time-consuming processes associated with EV battery recycling, academics from global institutions, like the Argonne National Laboratory, are working to regulate and optimize recycling processes.
Additionally, The US Department of Energy donated $15 million to a ReCell Center to help coordinate scientific studies in academia, industry, and government laboratories.
Here are some potential policies and regulations that could be introduced to boost EV battery recycling rates:
Most EV battery packs contain little to no information about the cathode, anode, and electrolyte. As a result, recyclers have to spend time finding this information.
To speed up the process, every EV battery pack must contain content labels to help recycling facilities automate the sorting and processing stages.
B. Design Standards
Currently, there is a wide range of designs for lithium batteries, making it difficult for recyclers to determine how to move each battery through the process.
By having a single or a handful of regulated designs, recyclers can reduce the amount of manual effort needed and maximize output.
EV batteries are expensive and heavy to ship. As a result, industry experts are considering co-locating recycling facilities with EV battery production sites. This way, electric car prices will drop, and recycling sites can do their jobs efficiently.
Electric car batteries are highly flammable and must be disposed of properly to avoid environmental and health risks. If your electric vehicle battery is reaching the end of its lifespan, contact a professional battery recycling facility or experts who can help you repurpose or store the battery.