Are Electric Car Batteries Recyclable?

By 2028, the electric car market is expected to grow into a 355 billion dollar industry with a 19% share of the overall automobile market. That incredible growth also means that there are going to be a lot of electric car batteries out there, with the old retiring as the new roll in. What’s to be done with the old batterie? Can electric car batteries be recycled?

Not entirely, although many of the parts in an electric car battery can be recycled, the industry is still developing better methods. When it comes to lead-acid batteries, 99% of the lead is recycled, per federal regulations. When it comes to lithium-ion, however, there’s still room for improvement.

Lithium-ion batteries make up the bulk of the batteries used in EVs (Electric Vehicles). Unfortunately, the industry is still refining its recycling process with these batteries, and recycling percentages aren’t readily available. 

How are Electric Car Batteries Recycled?

Recycling batteries is a difficult process and, as we mentioned above, they aren’t entirely recycled. A lot of the reason behind that is how batteries are constructed, along with the complex and differing manufacturing specs for all of the different batteries out there. 

Not all Lithium-ion batteries are manufactured in the same way. Some have cells that are bound together with extremely powerful, industrial-grade adhesives. The process can be so difficult that sometimes it’s more profitable to just buy new materials. 

The glues have to be deconstructed or broken apart first. The cells that the batteries held together are then broken down through either fire or acid bathing. When they are broken down, various solvents are used to separate and extract the various components. 

What Can Electric Car Batteries be Used for Next?

There are still ways to use old batteries as an environmentally friendly power source and when the battery has exhausted its use in a car, it can be used as a power storage device. The thing is, batteries have a limited number of cycles before they drop below 80% viability.

When this happens, they are no longer useful in a vehicle, however, they’re still very useful as a power storage unit in something like a solar setup in your home. Storage batteries, especially when linked and stacked in your home solar energy system, can save you a lot of money on your power bill. 

On an industrial and commercial level, former EV batteries are used in just the same way that you would use them in-home, just on a much larger scale and with a whole lot more of them. Some industries combine these old batteries into massive power storage systems for backup power solutions. 

Can Lithium Car Batteries Be Recycled?

Lithium-ion car batteries can only be partly recycled and that is because there are only two, primary means to recycle them, both of which have their individual faults. The first is through a pyrometallurgical process in which the battery is consumed via intense flame. 

The fire melts everything down to its core and that’s where the problem lies. Once it is completely melted down and the components separated, much of what was recyclable was destroyed and only a small amount of usable material is recovered.

The second method is an acid bath that melts down the components as well. With this process, however, much more usable material is recovered. The problem is that the expense of the process is astronomical in comparison to the fire. 

What is the Life Span of an EV battery?

Before an electric car battery can even be considered for recycling, it has to first exhaust its lifespan within the car. As we mentioned above, an EV battery has only so many cycles (number of times that it can be charged and drained) before it drops below 80% efficacy.

Once it is below 80%, it is no longer able to provide optimal performance for an EV. In general terms (how everyone treats their EV is different), an electric vehicle will last roughly 8 years or 100,000 miles. Most experts stick with kilometres, which is around 160,000.

After the battery has been reduced to this point, it’s time to replace it, which is an expensive process but necessary if you want to maintain the car itself, without buying a new one. Next, the battery begins its second life—it’s not automatically packed off to the recycling bin. 

As a used battery that is installed amongst other batteries into a power storage system, the used EV battery can last for another decade, depending on how often current is drawn from and redirected to it. 

Can Valuable Metals be Retrieved from an EV Battery?

Through the process mentioned above, hydrometallurgy (acid bath), much of the precious metals that go into the construction of a lithium-ion battery can be recovered. When the process involves intense heat, not so much. 

However, even with the heating method, some of the precious metals are still recovered. Although it is a more wasteful process, it’s also the most common process because it’s far cheaper than using acid. 

When the metals are dissolved and retrieved through acid, far more of the material is reobtained and used in future EV batteries or whatever applications they are viable for. As technology improves, the lead process will most likely become more refined and cheaper.

Where are EV Batteries Recycled?

Believe it or not, there is no single company that conducts this kind of recycling and retrieval. However, at least in recent years, several companies have stepped forward and allowed the use of their materials and facilities, previously used for other manufacturing processes, to recycle EV batteries. 

The reality is, as the process for recycling is refined and improved, there will eventually be companies that spring up, whose entire existence is reliant upon the task of recycling EV batteries and selling the recovered materials. 

All Things Considered

Electric Car batteries can certainly be recycled, at least to a degree. Unfortunately, our technology has not evolved to the point where it is an efficient and streamlined process. As of right now, we are fumbling around in the dark a bit. Eventually, however, someone will find the light switch and turn it on.