What happens to used electric car batteries?
The question that naturally follows is, “what happens to car batteries?” have you wondered what happens to the car battery at the end of their life? The question is very important since car batteries can use a lot of rare elements like Cobalt. A more sustainable way to manage the menace is to assess the environmental impact of used batteries from electric cars, find out how to reduce it, and make positive steps towards the goals for a more sustainable world.
What are batteries in electric cars?
Electric car batteries are used to power electric cars or hybrid electric vehicles and provide electricity as a source of fuel instead of petrol or diesel. The batteries are rechargeable and mostly use lithium-ion technology for a high capacity and energy density. Electric car batteries are different from the common acid battery used in classical car ignition and lighting.
The global industry for battery production for electric cars uses graphite, metal oxides, and lithium salts. Multiple elements are used to produce positive and negative electrodes that are then combined with an electrolyte. Electric car batteries are usually bolted onto the chassis of the vehicle to store electricity and power the electric motor(s).
Different technologies are used during the manufacturing of batteries for electric cars. Common technologies are lead-acid Nickel-metal hydride, sodium nickel chloride, and Lithium-Ion. The lithium-ion battery is the most commonly used with little data on the capacities of the other technologies. The lead-acid battery supports up to 130 kilometres after a full charge, while lithium-ion has a much larger potential, with capacities between 6.1 kWh to108 kWh that support up to 780 km of range (Mercedes-Benz EQS).
The second life of used batteries
After years of use, the battery capacity of an electric car battery wears down and might have to be replaced along the way. Once the battery has less than 70% of its original capacity it won’t fully support the high demands of an electric car’s needs (fast charging, high energy output) anymore. These batteries can still provide a lot of value to other energy storage systems. They can especially be used in a second-life to of energy such as wind, which have varying amounts of power.
Recycling of used batteries
Electric car batteries can last more than 10 years but even after a second-life approach they will need to be recycled at some point. One viable method is to recycle the electric car batteries and to use the different components gained for the manufacturing of other products. There are at least five recycling methods:
- Pyrometallurgical recovery,
- Physical materials separation,
- Hydrometallurgical metalextraction,
- Direct recycling method,
- Biological metals extraction.
Battery recycling has been performed in Switzerland since the early 1990s to recover metal and to convert polluting substances to less harmful variants. Old car batteries can be recycled worldwide, with at least 96% of their components recycled. Newer lithium-ion batteries like those used in Tesla’s can be recycled up to 92 %.
Electric car batteries do have an impact on the environment due to the rising demand for certain metals and materials used in their production, but recycling and second-life applications of used electric car batteries help to further improve and reduce the carbon footprint that electric cars generate. In addition, the battery manufacturing industry is continuously looking for different materials to improve the energy density while reducing the environmental footprint simultaneously. Solid state batteries are one example of the potential next step in the battery industry. Additionally, the renewable energy sector and power grids in general have an increasing demand for energy storage solutions which provide a second-life application to used car batteries and further reduce their footprint through a prolonged time of use before they can be recycled.