Vehicles have been electrified. What Happens to a Used Battery?
Hans Eric Melin, founder of Circular Energy Storage, a consultancy that focuses on battery life cycle management, agreed. Time can solve many problems. As many batteries die, economies of scale can reduce costs. The other key, according to Melin, is to find battery manufacturers and battery recyclers closer to each other. He noted that the most developed battery recycling industry is in China, where 70 percent of lithium-ion batteries are made. In North America and Europe, there is less manufacturing and less recycling. But some automakers have set inside the house recycling programs to recover materials on their own, while recyclers are also thinking about making batteries. In September, Redwood Materials said it would start construction of battery cathodes from recovered metals.
However, some say that some batteries “drop” from these systems and cannot be immediately recycled. Some electric vehicles will go overseas, as do about 40 percent of gas-powered vehicles at present. This is a common fate because vehicles deemed unsuitable for U.S. roads can still be shipped overseas and sold at a high discount. Melin said a small number of older EVs are moving abroad. In his research, he found it easy to trace old models of all electrical. Nissan Leaf in Ukraine, where it was not sold by the company until this summer.
Shipping and used cars abroad is an important way to make electric vehicles accessible to poor countries, Melin said. But this raises the question of whether these areas are ready for safe and efficient environmental recycling if vehicles die. “We have evidence from the e-waste trade that there are poor versions of recycling,” said Kendall, who points to places like India and Southeast Asia. “It’s a pity.”
Closer to home, other EV batteries could “triple” the shadowy corners of the domestic auto industry, with players having no money or wanting to deal with garbage. One result is to stock batteries in the hope that the cost of recycling will eventually decrease or that the cost of batteries will increase. “Some of it is a dream,” Kendall said. Sometimes, the batteries stop with enthusiasm but not always the thought of salvation DIYers. That can be useful, as DIYers are likely to squeeze a lot of electrons out of used batteries by repurposing them for new applications, such as home energy storage. But some battery packs are broken down into individual cells or modules for repurposing, which means they are likely to disappear.
The government is likely to be involved as well, as is the deposit system for lead-acid batteries. Last year, the European Union proposed regulations requiring battery and vehicle manufacturers to manage recycled batteries, whoever owns them at the end of their lives. “The breaker might turn around and say,‘ I don’t want this thing in my yard. Here, get it, Honda or Tesla or Toyota, ‘”Latham explained to Salvage Wire. The new EU standards will also dictate how much of the precious metal inside new batteries should be recycled from old devices, rather than virgin material.
Regulating the battery industry requires a careful balance, Melin explained. Strict rules aimed at maximizing the greenness of EVs could slow the adoption of electric vehicles and lead to the burning of more fossil fuel — a much worse fate for the planet. A particular concern for automakers is the need to have a high threshold of recycled materials to be included in new batteries; which can be difficult to achieve, especially in the near term, and can increase battery costs.