What Happens to End-of-Life Electric Vehicle Batteries?

Controversial

Sep 14th, 2020

What Happens to End-of-Life Electric Vehicle Batteries?

As the world moves forward and thousands of innovations keep pouring in every day, we also see the use of electric vehicles increasing. 

In 2019, 7.2 million EVs were sold globally, bypassing 2018 sales by almost 2.1 million electric vehicles.

In the same year, Australia sold 6,718 EVs. This figure might not seem like a huge number on its own, but it is triple the number of electric vehicles sold the year before that. 

It shows that even though the market share of EVs is not huge at this point, it is growing at a very rapid pace. We can see that the world is warming up to this new technology; yet, how ready are we for it?

What is an electric vehicle?

An electric vehicle runs via an electric motor which is powered by a battery. Its plus point is that it runs on electricity and has zero-to-low carbon footprint. While EVs seem like an ideal alternative to petrol and diesel vehicles, they bring about a new problem to the environment – how to dispose of end-of-life EV batteries. So, how do we deal with this challenge? 

How long do electric vehicles last? Do they have junkyards?

By 2040, EVs will comprise more than 50% of new car sales – that’s easily 559 million electric vehicles. The real deal-breaker? The batteries of these vehicles! 

An EV battery can remain useful up to 17 years if driven 20,000 km a year, adding up to over 300,000 km in a lifetime. Sounds like a good lifespan, doesn’t it?

However, this advantage does not offset the threat that used EV batteries pose to the environment. Why so? Lithium-ion batteries contain toxic chemicals that you cannot merely dispose of in landfills. The battery might cause a chemical reaction that could even lead to an explosion. The good thing is that these batteries can be repurposed even past their usefulness in EVs.

For these reasons, automobile companies, recycling, and energy storage institutions are taking it upon themselves to make sure that these batteries are recycled and disposed of correctly.

What uses are there for end-of-life EV batteries?

Once an EV battery wears off, it can either be recycled for a second life or moulded for multiple other purposes. One such example is Toyota which came up with an innovation to combine these batteries with the solar panels to power some stores in Japan. Creative, right? 

EV Battery Recycling

EV battery recycling methods include direct recovery, integration, and many more. These methods, however, are not without some drawbacks. Recycling requires intensive manufacturing capabilities and is the more expensive method; thus, it's not always preferred. Also, if not handled properly, the heavy metal in the battery can leak and pollute the ground. The cost of extracting all the lithium from the battery is also quite expensive. In comparison to that, if you only extract the raw materials, the cost drops down to one-third of the original. These can then be repurposed for other uses.

EV Batteries for Other Uses

Most end-of-life EV batteries still retain 70% of their original capacity which can easily be used for other purposes after they have been dismantled, rebuilt, and repackaged for further use. Here are some examples -

Nissan uses recycled EV batteries to power streetlights. Renault recycles these batteries to power elevators. Toyota, as usual, is also out there making these changes, recycling EV batteries to power solar panels.

So, are EVs really better for the environment?

Having highlighted the tedious process of recycling spent EV batteries, we come back to the real question again. Are EVs really as ‘green’ as the hype we hear about them?

Due to the lithium-ion batteries inside them, electric vehicles release stored energy electrochemically. It means that they are cleaner in this sense because they don't emit harmful substances. 

The issue, however, is that these batteries contain elements such as lithium, cobalt, and graphite, which can be hazardous to people and the environment. Thus, dismantling and putting them in a junkyard is not an environmentally-sustainable option. 

Also, while it's true that electric vehicles don't emit gases like regular vehicles do, the power used to charge them may not necessarily be 'green'. And worse, as we've seen, EV batteries can do more harm than good at the end of their useful lives.

We need to find useful alternatives to repurpose and recycle EV batteries instead of just dumping them in landfills. We have to adopt sustainable approaches with the ever-growing demand for EVs. If we succeed in doing so, only then will we be able to assess and claim that electric vehicles are really better for the environment.

Stay tuned to Carpart.com.au for more updates!


By Wajeeha S.