Electric vehicles (EVs) are becoming more popular and affordable, but they also pose a challenge to the environment: what to do with their batteries when they reach the end of their life span? According to Reuters, the US government is offering incentives for recycling and reusing EV batteries, which could create a lucrative market for companies that can extract valuable metals and materials from them.
The problem of EV battery waste
Electric vehicle batteries are made of lithium-ion cells containing metals such as cobalt, nickel, manganese, and lithium. These metals are scarce and expensive, and mining them can have negative impacts on the environment and human rights.
According to a report by the International Energy Agency (IEA), the global stock of EV batteries will increase from about 170 gigawatt-hours (GWh) in 2019 to 2,600 GWh in 2030 and to 7,500 GWh in 2040. This means that by 2040, there will be enough EV batteries to power about 140 million homes for a year.
However, these batteries will also lose their capacity and performance over time and eventually need replacement. The IEA estimates that by 2030, there will be about 12 million tons of old electric vehicle battery waste globally; by 2040, this will rise to 34 million tons.
If these batteries are not properly recycled or reused, they could end up in landfills or incinerators, where they could leak toxic chemicals, cause fires or explosions, or emit greenhouse gases. Moreover, throwing away these batteries would waste precious resources that could be used for making new batteries or other products.
The solution of EV battery recycling and reuse
To address the problem of electric vehicle battery waste, the US government is encouraging the development of a circular economy for EV batteries, where they can be recycled or reused multiple times before being disposed of.
According to Reuters, the US Department of Energy (DOE) has launched several initiatives to support EV battery recycling and reuse, such as:
- The ReCell Center is a research hub that aims to develop technologies and processes for recovering materials from EV batteries at lower cost and higher efficiency.
- The Lithium-Ion Battery Recycling Prize is a competition that awards cash prizes to innovators who can design and demonstrate solutions for collecting, sorting, storing, and transporting used EV batteries.
- The Second Life Battery Atlas is a database that collects information on the availability, location, condition, and performance of used EV batteries that can be reused for other applications.
The DOE is also working with other agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Transportation (DOT), to establish standards and regulations for the safe and sustainable management of EV batteries.
The US government is not alone in promoting old electric vehicle battery recycling and reuse. Other countries, such as China, Japan, South Korea, and the European Union (EU), have also implemented policies and programs to support this sector.
The benefits of EV battery recycling and reuse
Recycling and reusing EV batteries can have multiple benefits for the environment, the economy, and society. Some of these benefits include:
- Reducing the demand for new mining of metals and materials that are used in EV batteries
- Saving energy and emissions that are associated with producing new EV batteries
- Creating new jobs and industries in the field of EV battery recycling and reuse
- Enhancing the security and resilience of the supply chain for EV batteries
- Extending the value and utility of EV batteries beyond their first use in vehicles
- Providing cheaper and cleaner energy storage solutions for various applications, such as grid services, renewable energy integration, backup power, or off-grid electrification
According to a study by BloombergNEF (BNEF), recycling EV batteries could reduce the cost of new battery production by 10% by 2030. The study also estimates that by 2030, there will be about 95 GWh of used EV batteries available for reuse globally.
Some examples of companies that are already involved in EV battery recycling or reuse are:
- Li-Cycle Corp., a Canadian company that uses a hydrometallurgical process to recover up to 95% of the materials from EV batteries
- Redwood Materials Inc., a US company founded by former Tesla executive JB Straubel, uses a pyrometallurgical process to recover metals from EV batteries.
- American Battery Technology Co., a US company that uses a combination of mechanical separation and hydrometallurgical extraction to recover metals from EV batteries
- Nuvve Corp., a US company that provides vehicle-to-grid (V2G) services that enable EVs to store and supply electricity to the grid
- Relectrify Pty Ltd. is an Australian company that develops battery management systems that can extend the life and performance of used EV batteries.
The future of EV battery recycling and reuse
As the EV market grows, so will the demand for EV battery recycling and reuse. According to a report by Grand View Research, the global EV battery recycling market size was valued at $138.6 million in 2019 and is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 41.8% from 2020 to 2027. The report also projects that the global EV battery reuse market size will reach $4.6 billion by 2025, growing at a CAGR of 30.6% from 2019 to 2025.
However, some challenges and barriers must be overcome to realize the full potential of EV battery recycling and reuse. Some of these challenges include:
- The lack of standardized and harmonized regulations and policies for EV battery recycling and reuse across different regions and jurisdictions.
- The high cost and complexity of collecting, sorting, transporting, and storing used EV batteries
- The variability and uncertainty of the quality, quantity, and availability of used EV batteries
- The technical and economic feasibility of recycling or reusing different types of EV batteries with different chemistries, designs, and specifications
- The need for more research and innovation to improve the efficiency, safety, and scalability of EV battery recycling and reuse technologies and processes
- The need for more education and awareness among consumers, manufacturers, regulators, and stakeholders about the benefits and opportunities of EV battery recycling and reuse
To address these challenges, there is a need for more collaboration and coordination among different actors in the EV battery value chain, such as:
- Vehicle manufacturers who can design EV batteries that are easier to recycle or reuse and provide information and incentives for customers to return their old electric vehicle batteries
- Battery manufacturers who can use recycled or reused materials in their production processes and ensure the traceability and quality of their products
- Recycling or reuse companies that can adopt best practices and standards for their operations and offer competitive prices and services for their customers
- Government agencies that can provide clear and consistent regulations and policies for EV battery recycling and reuse and support research and development in this field
- Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) who can monitor and advocate for the environmental and social impacts of EV battery recycling and reuse
- Academia and research institutions that can conduct scientific studies and experiments to advance the knowledge and innovation in EV battery recycling and reuse
By working together, these actors can create a circular economy for EV batteries that can benefit everyone. @via Gerane.