The popularity of electric cars is surging around the world. But along with the demand, there are questions. What happens to all the old EV batteries as the first generation of electric car batteries reach the end of their lives and are no longer enough to power a car?
Most industrialized nations are pushing to electrify their cars in the next decade. The aim is to rely less on fossil fuel vehicles and use clean energy to protect the environment. However, the benefit of electric car batteries may not be so rosy.
What happens to the mountain of EV batteries in inoperative electric vehicles?
Digital Automotive Journalist, Javier Mota told CGTN “I think it is a huge problem. Right now, most of the U.S. market and maybe globally too is thinking of the electrification process and the infrastructure adaptation as only the charging stations. It has to be a comprehensive package; it has to include recycling because obviously the batteries are going to have to end up being dumped when they are no longer useful for charging the cars.”
In China, nearly 720,000 tons of EV batteries will be ready to be recycled by 2025, according to estimates. Most of the electric cars today use lithium-ion batteries, which contain a mix of various metals. These metals need to be mined which is an expensive process.
China is now the world’s largest consumer and producer of electric vehicles. The country also accounts for 77% of Asia’s EV recycling capacity.
These old EV batteries have been described by some in the industry as “metal mines.”
Tu Le, Managing Director, Sino Auto Insights, said “With rare earth metals, there is always going to be an energy security angle to it. So, it is in China’s best interest because they are the largest market for passenger vehicles so you would assume that over time, they are also going to be the largest electric vehicle market and it makes sense for them to recycle as much as they can. Because although currently they have the lion’s share of mining rights for lithium, for cobalt the less they have to rely on foreign entities and foreign countries for their batteries the better off they’ll be. So, what we are seeing is, I think battery cell manufacturers and startups beginning to emerge and capacity being invested in China.”
EV batteries get removed from service when they reach 70% of their initial capacity.
If not recycled, can they be used elsewhere?
Tu Le added “70% of what they were when they were initially installed in the electric vehicles is still good enough for useful life of a building in order to store energy from solar panels or from wind turbines and then we could utilize that electricity during peak hours and not pay those high rates.”
While momentum is building behind recycling batteries, will it become mainstream?