EV batteries can be recycled, reused, or both, fueling everything from electric bicycles to elevators. While myths about EV batteries end up in landfills still persist, the energy left inside used EV batteries is far too valuable to waste.
Electric vehicle batteries are expensive, but unlike gas-powered vehicles, they don’t need to be replaced often. Their lifespan is roughly ten years, with little or no maintenance in between. A telling sign of a declining battery results in a car that can travel fewer and fewer miles without a charge, and it becomes obvious to drivers they need a new battery. But when it’s time to get a new battery, what happens to the old one?
Batteries in electric vehicles (and hybrids) can be recycled. Today, EVs use lithium-ion batteries, similar to those in laptops and cell phones. When battery packs are too drained for driving, they still contain about 80% of their charge. Before they get to a recycling center, they can be used for other things, such as to stabilize the grid, especially alongside energy sources that may not be quite as steady, like wind or solar energy.
When they do arrive at a recycling plant, they are sorted up by their different compositions of metal such as nickel or copper. If they might still have a charge, they are frozen with liquid nitrogen before broken up for safety.
Recycling the chemicals can be more complicated. Extracting energy from lithium-ion batteries can be expensive. Recycled lithium is 5x more expensive than mined lithium. Nonetheless, recycled lithium is just as useful as mined lithium.
Some companies are already working on recycling. Li-Cycle in Canada is able to extract 100% of lithium from lithium-ion batteries. In the United States, California’s Redwood Materials and Retriev Technologies recycles materials from old batteries, and Oregon’s OnTo Technologies is on the cutting edge of brand new technologies for retrieving useful materials out of EV batteries.
Want to recycle your battery? Many companies are happy to take recycled EV batteries. In fact, Home Depot has a non-profit “Call-2-Recycle” Program which will take driver’s used batteries and recycle them.
Another option is to reuse the spent battery, which still has plenty of energy left in it. Luckily, many materials and heavy metals can be reused. In Japan, Nissan battery contents are being reused in streetlights, while in Paris, Renault batteries are backing up elevators. In Australia, Aceleron recycles batteries for use in electricity storage, solar energy storage, and electric bicycles. At GM in Michigan, old Chevy Volt battery contents power its data center.
Recycling and reusing EV batteries is getting more and more important as more EVs are sold, and more companies are getting in on the action. Dane Parker, chief sustainability officer at General Motors, said in an interview that “creating a circular supply chain for EV batteries is one of the company’s central efforts to reduce its environmental footprint. He said GM designed its new Ultium battery pack with second-life applications in mind and is currently working with partners to develop a business case around battery reuse.”
Recycling and reusing batteries is a trend with a great deal of potential. As new EVs arrive on the market, it opens up an opportunity for EV manufacturers to make a real difference in their environment and carbon footprints.