A crucial aspect of making electric vehicles truly eco-friendly is whether or not you can recycle the parts when an EV comes to the end of the road!
Let’s look at the process of EV battery recycling, the environmental benefits, and the innovations shaping current battery recycling.
Can you recycle EV batteries?
Yes, you can recycle electric vehicle batteries. The recycling process looks to recover the valuable materials that can be reused such as lithium, cobalt, nickel, and other metals. These metals can be reused in the production of new batteries or other products.
EV batteries can also be recycled wholly and used for other purposes (known as second-life applications), such as storage batteries for houses or factories.
What are EV batteries made of?
Electric vehicle batteries are usually some kind of lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery, this is the most common type of battery used in EVs due to their high energy density and long cycle life.
A Li-ion battery is composed of several components, including the cathode, anode, electrolyte, separator, and casing.
Here’s an overview of what makes an EV battery and how they work together:
The cathode is the positive electrode and is generally made of a combination of lithium and other transition metals, such as cobalt, nickel, and manganese. According to an NRDC EV supply chain report, there are concerns about the future supply of the elements that go into the Cathode.
The anode is the negative electrode, and it is usually made of graphite.
The electrolyte is the part that the lithium ions use to move between the cathode and the anode during charging.
The separator is a thin membrane that keeps the cathode and anode from directly touching each other.
The battery casing is usually made of metal to protect the internal components.
What are the benefits of recycling EV batteries?
There are lots of benefits to recycling in general, but when you look at EV batteries it’s all about conserving the precious mineral resources.
Recycling allows us to recover things like lithium, cobalt, nickel, and other metals. This reduces the need for mining and extraction of virgin materials, helping to conserve the world’s finite resources.
If we can reduce the demand for these raw materials, then we can also reduce the other environmental damage that comes from mining, such as habitat destruction and water pollution.
How do you recycle EV batteries?
There are 3 common ways to recycle EV batteries:
- Mechanical processes
This method begins with dismantling the battery pack and removing any hazardous or unwanted materials. The batteries are then shredded, and the resulting fragments undergo a series of steps to separate the materials, such as sieving or using magnets.
- Pyrometallurgical processes
This method involves high-temperature treatment of the battery materials. The batteries are first shredded, and then the materials are smelted in a furnace. This process allows the recovery of valuable metals, such as cobalt, nickel, and copper, in the form of a metal alloy.
- Hydrometallurgical processes
In this method, the battery materials are first mechanically processed, and then the metals are leached using chemical solutions, such as acids or other lixiviants.
Can I recycle my own EV battery?
No, it would be a bad idea to attempt to recycle your own EV battery, recycling the main EV battery involves specialised processes, equipment, and safety precautions. You will need to have your electric car towed to a specialist garage to carry out the work.
You can, however, recycle your EVs 12-Volt battery – the one that powers the other parts of the car like the air con or the sat nav. If you have tried jump-starting this battery without success you can replace this and take it to a major car service centre such as Halfords and they will recycle it for you.
Additionally, the batteries contain hazardous materials and pose risks such as fire or explosion if not managed correctly, so do not bother trying!
If you have concerns about the state of your car’s battery you should raise this with your EV technician on your next EV MOT, as it’s not possible to change an EV battery yourself.
Is there any legal requirement to recycle an EV battery?
Yes, under the Waste Batteries and Accumulators Regulations 2009 any company that produces an EV battery should follow these steps:
- Register with an appropriate environmental agency (such as the Environment Agency in England, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency, or Natural Resources Wales).
- Report the volume and type of batteries they place on the market, as well as the amount collected and recycled.
- Take back waste batteries from customers free of charge, either directly or through a designated collection facility.
- Ensure that the collected batteries are properly treated and recycled.
For EV owners, there is no specific legal requirement to recycle an EV battery. However, it is obviously a good idea to dispose of end-of-life batteries responsibly, speak to your EV manufacturer’s service centre when the time comes.
Can EV batteries be reused for other things?
EV batteries can be reused for other things, this is called second life application.
When an EV battery starts to degrade to a point where it can’t be used in an electric vehicle, it may still have around 70-80% of its initial capacity remaining. This means the battery is perfectly fine for other uses until it eventually needs to be recycled.
Some common second-life applications for EV batteries include:
- Energy storage systems
Used EV batteries can be repurposed for energy storage in residential or industrial settings. They can store excess energy generated from renewable sources like solar or wind power and provide backup power during peak demand or power outages.
- Grid support
By aggregating multiple used EV batteries, large-scale energy storage systems can be created to support the electric grid.
- Off-grid power solutions
In remote or off-grid locations, repurposed EV batteries can be used as a reliable energy storage solution to power homes, businesses, or community facilities.
- Back-up power supplies
Used EV batteries can be employed as backup power sources for critical infrastructure, such as data centres, hospitals, or emergency response facilities, ensuring continuous power availability in case of grid disruptions.
By reusing EV batteries in second-life applications, we can extend their useful life and reduce waste – win win!
The final word on recycling EV batteries
It’s good to know that EV batteries can indeed be recycled. The recycling process recovers valuable materials like lithium, cobalt, nickel, and other metals, allowing them to be reused in new batteries or other applications.
Various recycling technologies can be used to refine the precious elements of batteries, but we as EV owners will likely never need to know the finer details of this process – the manufacturers and EV dealerships have a responsibility to ensure that the battery is recycled correctly at the end of its life.
It’s important that we as consumers and governments (via regulation), continue to encourage EV battery recycling. Not only does this help us conserve resources but also contributes to a circular economy where materials are repurposed.
Ready to dive even deeper...
John is the Editor and Spokesperson for Electric Car Guide.
With over 20 years of writing experience, he has written for titles such as City AM, FE News and NerdWallet.com, covering various automotive and personal finance topics.
John’s market commentary has been covered by the likes of The Express, The Independent, Yahoo Finance and The Evening Standard.