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What Happens To Electric Vehicle Batteries Once They Retire?

By Dana Donovick (Twitter @DanaDonovick)

With the new era of electric vehicles underway, millions of EV batteries will be produced, but also eventually retired. These batteries are rich in raw materials like lithium, nickel, and cobalt, all of which are costly to mine. The million dollar question is, how do we reduce the reliance on mining battery metals and keep these raw materials in circulation?

Recycling lithium batteries, let alone batteries from an electric vehicle is not an easy task. Electric vehicle manufacturers have developed systems for assembling these elaborate battery systems but the real challenge is being able to disassemble dead batteries and extract valuable metals at scale. So far, there's not a scalable solution commercialized yet. However, what if we repurpose electric vehicles batteries for a different use? The battery may not be able to support the performance of the vehicle after 10 years, but there is enough battery capacity to serve a second life of storing excess power generated by wind-farms or solar.

The problem.

  • Recycling facilities are everywhere, but not all are equipped to handle the task of safely breaking down lithium-ion batteries.

  • Complex designs make it difficult for recyclers to navigate to the valuable components.

  • Lithium-ion batteries are rarely designed with recyclability in mind

What are lithium-ion batteries so difficult to recycle? Most components of an electric vehicle battery are welded together, which is good for electrical connection, but bad for recycling.

The other critical challenge is safety. Exposure to toxic lead, battery acid and potent neurotoxins make recycling lithium batteries a very dangerous job.

How do we safely recycle lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles?

A standard battery design and assembly that's broadly used, and made to be broken down as easily as it's assembled. New fasteners and connections that compress the metal contacts together without welding will not only help with disassembly, but also mitigate risk of fire and explosion risks.

One things for sure, as the automobile industry transforms from combustion engine vehicles to electric vehicles, NOW is the time to tackle these problems.

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