Today we look at the matter of recycling batteries – covering why nervousness about their life cycle is overlooking other opportunities, how new efficiencies are being found, and which emerging technologies may influence its future.
Zero to hero
While EV battery recycling is still in its infancy, the industry is projected to be worth over $500 billion by 2050 as the electric car revolution takes off.
In fact, in the past year alone, a number of major global vehicle manufacturers have announced their own recycling schemes alongside the roll-out of their first forays into the EV market, as they understand the potential of this emerging sector. For example, VW’s plant is due to come online in 2020 and will churn out 1,200 tonnes of recovered parts – enough for about 3,000 new batteries, with the potential for greater capacity as EV take-up grows.
At present just 5% of all lithium ion-batteries are recycled, and as such the car industry has the potential to revolutionise the way that we recycle everything from smartphones to laptops – with 1.56 billion lithium-ion powered smartphones sold worldwide in 2018 alone, that could have a major impact on reducing mining efforts and supporting a more sustainable, circular economy.
As the first generation of EV batteries come to the end of their projected 10-year life cycle, most retain around 70-80% of their capacity. While manufacturers recommend that these are replaced in vehicles, due to the workload that they face and reducing returns for range, these batteries still offer a wealth of capacity which can be used to store solar energy for homes, power streetlights, and as back-up power sources for elevators or data centres.
“A lithium-ion battery never actually dies, it’s just like you can take an alkaline battery out of your flashlight and put it into a remote control, and it’ll still be good enough,” explains Hans Eric Melin, Founder of Circular Energy Storage Research and Consulting.
In short retired EV batteries can immediately begin a second, useful life immediately and offer years more service.
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