One major caveat to the sustainability of electric vehicles (EVs) is the environmental cost of their batteries.  An EV battery pack lasts much longer than batteries used to power standard gasoline engines and they can easily outlive many other automotive components.


On the surface, that seems like only a good thing.

But as older electric cars are taken off the road, what happens to the weighty, expensive, and resource-intensive old car battery that’s no longer in use? Many of the first EVs that were introduced 20 years ago are now pressing this question.

It’s why electric vehicle recycling is now a mounting concern. Additionally, the rising demand for these cars means that used electric car batteries are going to continue piling up over the next few decades.

Large-format lithium-ion car batteries need to be specially handled, stored, and disposed of to prevent environmental threats. Managing old car battery disposal can be complicated and costly, but, if an electric vehicle battery still has useable components and materials, it could be a valuable resource.

A dedicated system for EV car battery recycling could also reduce the demand for lithium extraction and mining of other critical metals needed for new EV battery packs. For these reasons and more, a better EV battery recycling method presents a lot of opportunity.

The Obstacles And Potential Of Recycling Used Electric Car Batteries 

Figuring out how to dispose of car batteries and recycle them safely and sustainably is just as important as boosting EV range technology and integrating more charging stations. There’s no way to build and maintain an EV infrastructure without closing battery supply chain loops.

Credit: CSIRO

But, electric vehicle recycling is challenging and the average EV battery pack is considerably more complex than a standard car battery.

Recovering useable components and materials isn’t easy and existing methods are resource and labor-intensive. They also fail to recover significant quantities of material compared to what’s needed for initial manufacturing.

Most materials recovered from current battery recycling methods, primarily nickel and cobalt, are seldom used to make new batteries, let alone those needed for EVs. Most of the lithium in these packs end up going to waste.

Compared to the expense of producing a new EV battery, the current cost of scaling up current recycling methods would be far from competitive. To change this, better techniques and technologies are needed.

Companies like Li-Cycle, Call2Recycle, Redwood Materials, and Ascend Elements are just some of the few that are taking on the challenge.

Although they’re using different methods, they’re all working to make EV battery recycling safer, simpler, cleaner, cheaper, and scalable enough to become commercially viable.

New Car Battery Recycling Technologies

Better EV battery recycling doesn’t have to be accomplished through any single approach. Simply improving systems for EV battery pack recovery, prior to recycling, is a worthy pursuit. Repair, refurbishment, and repurposing are also useful intermediate steps.

Intercepting packs as they approach an end-of-life phase is generally more cost-effective and sustainable than recycling useable elements and starting from scratch.

This will still require a dedicated infrastructure to handle collection, transport, and containment in a safe and efficient manner. When it does become necessary to salvage parts rather than save a used pack, there are still ways to improve recycling viability.

American Battery Technology Company, for example, is using automated manufacturing machinery to essentially reverse the assembly process.

Credit: Mariordo

This not only reduces labor but also makes it much easier to reclaim valuable components and materials from more parts of the pack. Li-Cycle plans to use a process known as hydrometallurgy to isolate useable battery elements in a manner that’s safe and efficient.

Redwood Materials, which recently partnered with Toyota, is also developing new refurbishment and material reclaim programs. Their goal is to focus on anode and cathode production using old EV packs as a key component, thereby creating a virtually closed-loop system for battery pack manufacturing.

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