If you’re considering buying or leasing an Electric Vehicle (EV), chances are you’re motivated by their environmental credentials. You may also be wondering if manufacturers are able to recycle their large batteries at the end of their lifespan. The good news is that manufacturers can indeed recycle electric car batteries. They are also constantly developing more sustainable and efficient ways to do so. This blog post explores the recycling process of EV batteries, the materials used & the innovative initiatives.
What kind of Materials are used in EV Batteries?
Manufacturers construct lithium-ion EV batteries using metals like aluminium, graphite, nickel, copper, cobalt, steel, and lithium. While mining these materials requires non-renewable energy, lithium-ion batteries contribute to significant CO2 savings over their lifetime. For example, producing a 75-kWh battery for a Tesla Model 3 in Nevada emits CO2 equivalent to driving a petrol-powered car for 1.4 years, covering an average annual distance of 19,000 km.
Several factors, including battery chemistry, usage patterns, temperature conditions, and battery maintenance, can cause the average lifespan of an electric vehicle (EV) battery to vary. Generally, manufacturers design most modern EV batteries to last between 8 to 15 years or around 160,000 to 320,000 kilometres.
How to Recycle Electric Vehicle Batteries?
Recycling companies play a vital role in reducing the environmental impact of EV batteries and preventing toxic materials from ending up in landfills. Presently, only 6% of lithium-ion batteries are being recycled in Australia. It is estimated that Australians will dispose of between 137,000 and 186,000 tonnes of these batteries annually by 2036.
Australia’s biggest battery recycler, Ecobatt, recovers about 90% of all battery materials, such as lithium, nickel, and cobalt. They then ship these recovered materials overseas to produce new batteries. Additionally, researchers from Cornell University have found that reusing and repurposing EV batteries before recycling can reduce their carbon footprint by up to 17%. (Repurposing used electric vehicle batteries for renewable energy storage 2021)
Repurposing EV Batteries
The value of spent electric car batteries extends beyond the extracted metals; entire EV batteries can be repurposed for various applications. For instance, BatteryLoop partners with Volvo to transform spent batteries into solar energy storage systems for electrified cars and bikes. Audi also reuses used EV batteries from their e-Tron vehicles to power their factory forklifts and tugs, leading to significant cost savings. Nissan’s Leaf batteries find a second life as part of its xSTORAGE energy storage unit, benefiting homes and industries.
The Growing Challenge of EV Battery Recycling
As the adoption of electric vehicles grows rapidly, so does the challenge of handling expired batteries. The University of Technology Sydney warns that by 2030, approximately 30,000 tonnes of used electric vehicle batteries will enter the waste stream in Australia, and by 2050, this number will reach 1.6 million tonnes. Addressing this issue urgently is essential to avoid environmental threats arising from improperly disposed batteries.
The Role of Redwood Materials in Battery Recycling
Companies like Redwood Materials have played an instrumental role in developing pathways for disassembling, breaking down, and recycling end-of-life battery packs. Redwood Materials already processes 6 GWh of lithium-ion batteries annually, equivalent to 60,000 EVs, and aims to make the extraction of valuable materials from used batteries more cost-effective than traditional mining.
Recycling and repurposing initiatives are crucial in managing the growing number of electric car batteries reaching the end of their life. As EV demand continues to rise, developing efficient recycling technologies and collection systems is essential in creating a truly circular economy. By supporting these initiatives and practising responsible disposal, we can contribute to making electric vehicles a more sustainable and environmentally friendly choice for the future.
List of References
Repurposing used electric vehicle batteries for renewable energy storage 2021, accessed 2 August 2023, <https://www.innovationnewsnetwork.com/repurposing-used-electric-vehicle-batteries-renewable-energy-storage/16457/>
Toby Hagon, 2021, Recycling old electric car batteries , accessed 2 August 2023, <https://rac.com.au/car-motoring/info/ev-battery-recycling>