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Pay or recharge: what happens to old EV batteries?


The environment is emerging as a key part of producing the “circle of life” for most industries these days, and arguably more so than in automotive manufacturing.

From plant power source to using recycled materials and then to end-of-life reuse, automakers do away with virtually every last scrap of every component in the vehicle, including electric vehicle batteries.

It takes a lot of energy to run an electric vehicle, in fact, on average, an EV consumes around 0.20 kWh / km. It is also a difficult application for rechargeable batteries with huge power consumptions followed by heavy charging regimes and over time even using best practices of “by the pound” recharging at some point, lithium ion batteries will degrade (about a decade), but don’t think all is lost for our multicell friend.

There is a misconception that in the years to come our landfills will be inundated with toxic battery waste seeping into the earth and littering our beautiful blue planet. But thanks to the “second life” opportunities and desirable materials from which EV batteries are actually made, the landfill option is actually the least attractive. So what are the other options?

Battery refurbishment

Not all EV batteries are built the same and there are certain battery modules which, provided they have minimal degradation and are free from defects or damage, can be refurbished and reused directly as a replacement for the battery. same vehicle model. Major car manufacturers offer rebuilt or refurbished batteries for the purchase or replacement under warranty of the original batteries of electric vehicles.

Second life application

When an EV battery reaches the end of its first useful life (around 70-80% of its capacity), it still has over two-thirds of its usable energy storage, which means there is still more enough power to store solar energy for example for the home or office (or even camping), and some car manufacturers themselves use second life batteries to power their facilities and other operations.

Renault uses “second life” batteries to power a certain number of its installations.

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Renault uses “second life” batteries to power a certain number of its installations.

Depending on their condition, it is believed that used EV batteries could provide an additional five to eight years of service in this secondary application.

For the consumer (even without solar panels), the ability to choose off-peak electricity tariffs to charge their EV battery storage will result in a significant reduction in the electricity bill and for power supply companies, EV energy storage cells could even negate the need to build power plants.

It is believed that with the rapid increase in electric vehicles (and the even faster growth expected over the next ten years), the supply of second-life batteries for stationary applications could exceed 200 gigawatt hours per year by 2030. .

Volkswagen recently launched a pilot battery recycling program.

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Volkswagen recently launched a pilot battery recycling program.

Recycle – the sum of all parts

The production of an EV battery requires many raw materials, and these currently include carbon, graphite, metal oxide, lithium salt, and liquid, gel, or polymer electrolyte. Often times, these cells will be created in a cylindrical shape with the cathode and anode produced as sheets (with a separator in between) and then filled with the electrolytic material. These cylindrical cells are interconnected to transport the load and arranged in a “module”. Several modules will then constitute an EV battery “pack”.

Obviously, the opposite is required for dismantling and recycling, but unlike production, this is not exactly an automated process. So is it worth it? Well, yes it is.

The technology exists to crush lithium-ion batteries to recycle metals.

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The technology exists to crush lithium-ion batteries to recycle metals.

The dismantled parts of battery systems, such as aluminum and copper, are simply handed over to established recycling streams. However, the industry as a whole is still looking for the best way to recycle the EV variant of lithium-ion, especially on a large scale.

Currently, a large part of the battery is reduced during the recycling process to what is called the “black mass”, which is a mixture of lithium, manganese, cobalt and nickel. This, however, requires yet another energy-intensive process to recover the materials in a usable form.

Manual dismantling of fuel cells can efficiently recover more of these valuable materials, but this poses its own problems in terms of health, safety and labor costs.

DAMIEN O’CARROLL / IMAGES PROVIDED

Confused by all the acronyms surrounding electric and hybrid vehicles? Here’s a quick overview of the differences between HEVs, PHEVs, and BEVs.

But make no mistake, recycling remains a serious option, especially as the prices of precious metals such as lithium, cobalt, manganese, and nickel have increased dramatically over time.

Several automakers have announced battery recycling plans, one of which recently opened its first recycling plant and currently plans to recycle up to 3,600 battery systems per year during the pilot phase.

As with the vehicles themselves, the ethics of recycling will (over time) become more prevalent, which in turn will reduce the need to mine for base materials and make the EV battery’s ‘circle of life’ even greater. more sustainable.


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