Sam Haig, Battery Recycling Business Manager at R S Bruce Metals & Machinery Ltd, based in the UK considers all aspects of why being prepared for the arrival of electric vehicles (EVs and HEVs) to our yards is of the utmost importance now.
Electric vehicles have been on our driveways and streets for many years now, and it will not be long before they start to turn up at ATFs for recycling. In fact, many readers may have already seen several hybrids or even full-electric vehicles arriving on the weighbridge.
With this new technology comes an array of challenges for recyclers. What are you doing to get ready for them?
The primary concern is, of course, safety; lithium-ion batteries used in electric vehicles are a complex mix of materials, some of which are extremely hazardous. The risks of fire from these batteries as well as the similar ones used in many WEEE items are well-documented throughout the ATF sector. The other element that is often missed is that when batteries set on fire or are damaged, they can release harmful and corrosive chemicals such as hydrogen fluoride.
However, these concerns can be countered by remembering that the batteries have in the main travelled around the country at high speeds without issue. This is not to dismiss the very severe fires that they can cause, but such incidents can be avoided by being prepared and taking precautions.
The first step upon receiving an electric or hybrid vehicle is, like any other, depollution and preliminary dismantling. Of course, when compared to a traditional car there are a few things missing from an electric vehicle; the fuel tank and catalytic converter for starters – and a few things that make an appearance – most notably being the large electric battery.
Safe removal of the battery is paramount. Not only does the battery pose the previously-mentioned risk of fire, but it is also at high voltages of over 500 V – plenty to cause you serious damage or more. Batteries are very heavy as well – usually at least 500 kg. Extreme care must be taken during the dismantling and removal phase to avoid these hazards.
Fortunately, the International Dismantling Information System (IDIS) contains information for many models of electric and hybrid vehicles, including safe methods for their removal from the vehicle. This resource should be consulted and the guides used as a basis for any company-specific operating procedure. Be aware that, as has been discussed in ATF Professional previously, the large battery is most likely not the only one in the car. As well as the standard 12 V starter battery, there are likely to be a host of other batteries at various points around the vehicle body, each of which is a potential fire risk if damaged. Again, the IDIS guides should be able to point these out for you.
Once the main battery is out, the next question is storage. Batteries should not pose issues provided they are treated with respect and not mishandled. This includes making sure that they are not damaged and are stored responsibly and away from extreme elements such as rain and heat – somewhere covered and in the shade is ideal. By making a designated area for batteries and making all staff aware, you will minimise your chance of anything untoward happening.
The final step is recycling of the battery itself, and once more IDIS is your friend, providing you with contact details for the vehicle manufacturer who should be able to arrange collection and disposal for you. However, there are other independent companies who may be able to offer you a removal service as well, and some may be able to dismantle the batteries into smaller units for easier onward recycling. At present there are no companies who can do the final recycling process for the batteries here in the UK, although several are under development, including R S Bruce; our battery recycling facility will be opening in Sheffield, North England, shortly.
If the battery is damaged on arrival then immediate action must be taken. In most cases, it is best to try to contact the vehicle manufacturer for advice. In the meantime, the damaged vehicle or battery should be kept separate from any other piles of material on-site and monitored carefully.
Key to all of the above is having staff who are aware of the risks and are capable of handling them. Training is particularly important, given the range of risks that batteries can pose, and staff who are working directly on the battery removal will require at least a basic understanding of working with high voltage systems, some knowledge of the potential risks posed by the chemicals within the batteries, and an appreciation of the practicalities of removing batteries from vehicles.
Hand in hand with training is equipment, including specialist lifting equipment, high voltage tools, and safety equipment such as the correct fire extinguishers and emergency showers.
The challenges posed by these new vehicles might seem daunting at first, but once they are recognised and understood they can be addressed with simple measures. The electric revolution is upon us, and it is not enough to ignore it anymore. How will you get ready?
If you would like to contact Sam, please email him at Sam.Haig@rsbruce.com or visit www.rsbruce.com
Alternatively, Sam will be speaking at the upcoming online conference – ‘International Retired EV Battery Management 2020’ held on the 18th-19th November