But even the most durable battery will eventually reach the end of its useful life. So, what can be done with used EV batteries? We’ll explain below the recycling processes, but also how EV batteries can be upcycled, reused, or repurposed.
Let’s explore what happens to EV batteries after you’re done using them.
While EV batteries will last for years, they will eventually reach their end of life. To understand how an EV battery can be recycled, we first need to look at what it is made of.
Like other electronics, EV batteries rely mainly on rechargeable lithium-ion cells to store energy. Beyond lithium, commonly used materials include cobalt, manganese, nickel, and graphite, as well as steel and aluminum for the casing.
To be recycled properly, these materials must be separated and purified to a point where they can be reused.
Beyond the Car: The future of end-of-life EV Batteries
As with most products, an EV battery is more sustainable the longer it can be used. While recycling allows the raw materials to be recovered, it’s still an energy-intensive process and should be the last resort when a battery can no longer be used in any other way.
One of the most popular applications for old EV batteries is for electricity storage, whether at the grid level or for individual homes and businesses. For instance, a project by Eaton, BAM, and our partner: The Mobility House, uses 148 old Nissan Leaf batteries to create a 3-megawatt battery storage that can smooth out peaks in demand at Amsterdam’s Johan Cruijff ArenA.
As renewable energy storage becomes a key challenge for grids across the world, storage systems made from used EV batteries can be a promising application that gives old batteries a second life.
Electric Car Batteries: A Look into their recyclability
While repurposing old batteries is usually the best solution, sometimes, batteries are defective or no longer functional enough to be reused. In these cases, recycling is the best option.
Recycling lithium-ion batteries is increasingly becoming a priority for countries and companies trying to reduce their dependency on raw material mining. Because many of the materials in EV batteries are rare or hard to source, recycling can ensure these valuable materials aren’t lost to landfills and instead fed back to the supply chain. Let’s see in more detail how EV battery recycling works.
How does recycling an EV Battery work?
To separate the various elements that make up an EV battery, it is first shredded, and the resulting materials are filtered based on size and composition. This separates plastics, ferrous materials (metals), and non-ferrous materials.
The next step is to extract valuable materials, such as lithium, cobalt, nickel, and manganese. This can either be done by applying high heat to the materials in a process called pyrometallurgy, which burns away non-metal parts, or by exposing the mix to chemical solutions that recover the appropriate materials, using a technique called hydrometallurgy.
In the US, local governments have authority over EV battery disposal and recycling, so regulations vary between states. California, for example, created the California Battery Recycling Advisory Group, which consists of automotive and battery manufacturers, government agencies, and public interest groups and is tasked with recommending policies for EV battery recycling.
What are the benefits of recycling electric car batteries?
As we’ve seen, EV batteries are made of many rare, hard-to-source materials, which are often concentrated in regions with poor human rights and environmental records. Recycling can help reduce the need for new raw materials, moving away from unethical and problematic supply chains.
As the number of EVs on the road will keep growing exponentially, considering their batteries’ end-of-life is essential to ensure electric cars are as sustainable as they are.
Recycling can help recover a significant portion of the materials used and put them back in the battery supply chain to create a truly circular economy. Beyond recycling, there are several ways to reuse and upcycle old EV batteries, prolonging their useful life.
If you’re wondering how sustainable electric cars really are, from their manufacturing to their use and end of life, check out our dedicated article on the topic.