What’s going to happen to end of life electric vehicle batteries in the future? Jeff Haltrecht, Executive at Call2Recycle, North America’s largest battery recycling program, provides his opinion.
By 2035, it’s expected that 46 million electric vehicles will be on U.S. roads alone. That’s a lot of charging needed for a lot of batteries. And as you know, we aren’t talking about the rechargeable batteries you find in your cell phone or laptop. As our vehicles start to electrify, we must ask the question now: How will we deal with all the batteries at their end of life?
To do this right, what’s required is a true circular economy approach to the electrification of transportation that will help drive carbon emissions to zero while also eliminating waste – EVs offer an outstanding opportunity to advance these important strategic goals.
Each time a new chemistry and battery size emerges, the industry adapts, and as a leading battery collection and recycling organization like Call2Recycle, we pivot along with it to ensure responsible management of all batteries at end of life. Yet, we are already seeing increased confusion around regulatory requirements and shifting cost models. Fortunately, the industry is leaning into its supply chain expertise and networks to serve a growing number of players in electric mobility, including manufacturers, retailers, auto recyclers and recycling processors to address this confusion.
Above all, the industry needs a methodical approach. Our goal is to help recycle or repurpose batteries safely while minimizing costs, and the early learning is encouraging. In Canada, we’re working with the bicycling industry to collect electric bike (e-bike) batteries and recycle them with Retriev and Li-Cycle. We work with car dealerships and auto recyclers in the U.S. and Canada to collect electric vehicle batteries and responsibly recycle them with processors, including Lithion, Li-Cycle, Retriev, Redwood Materials, RCI, Battery Solutions, Interco, and Inmetco. With each partnership, we deepen the understanding of the challenges and opportunities in this rapidly evolving space and fine-tune the approach to collections, transportation, repurposing, recycling, hazmat shipper certification, and even shipping container management.
The industry must make safety and environmental protection a priority. Through additional certifications that go well beyond what’s required by law, processors can exceed basic regulatory requirements. We can do this while keeping costs low and simplifying the process of collecting and recycling these amazing new battery technologies.
Auto recyclers are seeking answers to key questions, and we play a small yet vital role in helping find solutions:
- Does the industry have capacity?
Yes, absolutely, there is enough for today’s volume and there will be enough in the future as many of the recyclers mentioned in this article expand their operations.
- What recycling technology is available?
Each technology has its benefits and drawbacks, and it will be up to the OEM or industry overall to decide what is right for their needs. Hydrometallurgical is the newest, however Pyrometallurgical still has many merits. And if the battery chemistry is Ni-MH, then it must go to a recycler who handles that chemistry. Arguably, the more important decision is how far do you want to ship these batteries as the transportation cost is often more than the recycling cost, let alone the incremental greenhouse gas emissions from shipping longer distances.
- Does it cost to recycle?
Yes, today it does. As the infrastructure and recycling capabilities mature, the cost structure is expected to evolve in ways that will generate more value to everyone in the supply chain. Innovation will be key to driving improvements that should deliver better financial results. In particular, as we move toward more circular approaches in North America, we believe there will be a greater ability to sell the recycled metals to companies making new cathodes.
- Can e-Bike batteries be recycled with electric car batteries?
Absolutely. As both often come from similar battery manufacturers and have similar chemistries, we’re prepared to handle both.
- Will we be able to repurpose these batteries for another use, and will they pay the battery holder to get the battery?
Maybe yes, maybe no. When done right from a power and safety perspective, it is possible to create a second life for these batteries and it is being done on a small scale today. However, it’s not as easy as taking two e-Bike batteries or two electric car batteries and assembling them together. Consistency of supply, diagnostic capabilities, and new software are required to make it work. And then there is the cost of transportation: you may be paid for the batteries; however it still needs to ship from point A to point B and that costs money.
As electrified transportation matures and battery technologies evolve, so will the challenges we face in ensuring safe recycling in this growing industry. From training to transportation, we are still in the journey to recycling electric vehicle batteries by scaling battery collections, convening manufacturers and auto recyclers, and constantly engaging with academia and governments. Our role at Call2Recycle is to do what’s right for today and tomorrow in ensuring a fully sustainable, cost-effective solution for the transportation industry.