Vehicle Technology Studies
TECHNICAL AND COST ISSUES POSE CHALLENGES TO THE RE-USE AND RECYCLING OF SPENT BATTERIES FROM PLUG-IN ELECTRIC VEHICLES
A recent study commissioned by API appraised the nascent business of recycling and reusing batteries from electric vehicles (EV) in North America. The effort involved an extensive literature search as well as interviews with industry representatives to: (a) identify the processes employed for the reuse and recycling of EV batteries, and (b) evaluate available information on the technical, environmental, energy and cost issues associated with EV battery reuse and recycling.
The following highlights from the study are notable:
- The economics of recycling EV batteries using today’s technologies is poor and not likely to improve given the current manufacturer focus on reducing the content of valuable battery components (e.g., cobalt-based cathodes). Traditional recyclers charge EV battery owners a fee based on the time required to dismantle the battery, and credit EV battery owners an amount based on the value of the recovered metals.
- Business economics are generally favorable for the repurposing of EV batteries for use in “second life” applications (e.g., energy storage systems) following their end of life in vehicles.
- There is no evidence that EV battery recycling will be carried out at a positive value in the next five years, as the technologies that promise to achieve high recovery rates for the metals contained in EV battery cathodes have not yet been proven at commercial scale to date.
- The reuse and recycling pathways suffer from a lack of an established collection infrastructure to accumulate EV batteries in central locations where large numbers would lead to economies of scale.
- Reuse and recycling EV batteries poses technical challenges associated with: (1) a wide range of different (and evolving) battery formats, designs, compositions and chemistries, and (2) lack of automated processing for dismantling, recycling or refurbishment/reuse at commercial scale.
- EV batteries that have reached “end of life” are now beginning to appear in sufficient numbers in scrap yards to raise concern about proper management. There are significant safety concerns in refurbishing and reusing batteries for which the history is unknown, including not just failure, but catastrophic failure resulting in fires.
- EV battery recycling is subject to uncertainty regarding aftermarket values for the metals recovered, particularly as battery chemistries are changing over time.
- While recycling of small sized li-ion consumer batteries is well established in the US, the recycling of lithium-ion EV batteries is much more complex as the units are heavy (up to 400-500kg or 880-1100 lbs. for many models), dangerous until fully discharged, and require a lot of dismantling.
Download the high-level summary and full versions of the study below:
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