The crux with battery recycling

The life of electric car batteries is estimated by the manufacturers to be at least five years. But after the first life they should not immediately in the hazardous waste. There are ideas on how to get the batteries into a second life.

The eco-balance of electric cars is currently, considering the time from production to the Exodus, not much better than that of conventionally powered vehicles. EV’s could become more sustainable if coordinated battery recycling at the end of life existed.

Skeptics like to call e-cars due to their packed with metals and rare earth batteries like driving hazardous waste. Others are positive about rolling commodity mines: lithium, nickel, manganese, and cobalt, copper, steel, and plastic components - all of that is far too valuable to just throw away. In addition, it is prohibited: The EU requires that at least 50 percent of the material of an e-car battery must be recycled.


Second life after recycling

So far, however, battery recycling exists only in a very small style. This is due to a number of practical and logistical problems, but above all to the fact that so far there are hardly any old batteries. The experience with the life of e-car batteries are still incomplete, but the energy storage in the vehicle should be more durable than one knows from the domestic smartphone or laptop batteries. Around five to ten years - as most manufacturers promise - the batteries do their job. But even after that time they still have 75 to 80 percent of their output capacity.

After the segregation and an in-depth investigation, their “second life” should begin, for example as a buffer in the energy supply or as stationary energy storage for charging current providers. A life as a portable power donor for campers and adventure vacationers should be an option. Nissan, for example, plans to offer portable battery packs made from discarded Leaf batteries in the near future, while VW wants to use old batteries for mobile charging stations. Under optimal conditions, the decommissioned e-car batteries can be used in less demanding applications for another ten years.

Old batteries are dangerous goods

However, according to current calculations, the first large battery of old batteries will only be available in about 20 years. But of course, even today there are batteries that end up in recycling, for example because the vehicles in which they are installed were involved in an accident or because they were used so intensively in the van service that they have aged faster than expected.

So far, recycling is expensive and tedious. Even the transport is problematic, it is considered dangerous goods, which can then be stored only under security precautions. The final disassembly is done largely by hand. For the mechanical disassembly it would need uniform battery types - currently not even every manufacturer uses the same design in each model. In addition: the fewest batteries are today developed for a later recycling; Individual components are difficult to separate from each other, often only helps rigorous melting. Nevertheless, the recovery rates are relatively high, depending on the material at about 90 percent, in the overall average at about 50 percent.


Recycling rate of 97 percent?

While recycling is typically done by specialized recycling companies today, it could become interesting for vehicle manufacturers in the future, as they know the battery packs best and, if in doubt, can design them to end their two lives easy to disassemble. For example, VW is planning a pilot plant in Salzgitter that will make up to 72 percent of the components recyclable.

Remaining then are essentially only the electrolyte and the graphite electrode. In the long term, they too should return to the raw materials cycle, increasing the recycling rate to 97 percent. Recycling significantly improves the overall life cycle assessment of the electric car, avoids disposal costs and, last but not least, reduces manufacturers' dependence on the supply of new raw materials. Throwing away on the hazardous waste should therefore not come into question for e-car batteries.