Scaling Up An Industry
The International Energy Agency estimates that the world currently has enough capacity to recycle 180,000 metric tons of dead EV batteries a year. For comparison, all of the EVs put on the road in 2019 will eventually generate 500,000 metric tons of battery waste.
And thats just one year. By 2040, the IEA estimates there could be 1,300 gigawatt hours worth of spent batteries in need of recycling. To put that in terms of mass, Harper notes that an 80 kilowatt hour battery pack from a Tesla Model 3 weighs just over a thousand pounds. If all of those dead batteries came from Tesla Model 3s, this amount of spent battery storage capacity translates to nearly 8 million metric tons of battery wastewhich, Harper notes, is 1.3 times the mass of the Great Pyramid of Giza.
If recycling can be scaled up, that waste could be a significant source of minerals. In a sustainable development scenario where the EV market grows at a pace consistent with limiting global warming to less than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit , the IEA estimates that recycling could meet up to 12 percent of the EV industrys minerals demand by 2040. But if the same climate scenario is paired with a more optimistic set of recycling assumptions, recycling could play a much bigger role.
Still, even if recycling only meets a quarter to a third of our battery mineral demand over the coming decades, Riofrancos says its an important area to focus on because it helps us rethink our relationship with technology.
Electric Cars: What Will Happen To All The Dead Batteries
“The rate at which we’re growing the industry is absolutely scary,” says Paul Anderson from University of Birmingham.
He’s talking about the market for electric cars in Europe.
“It’s something that’s never really been done before at that rate of growth for a completely new product,” says Dr Anderson, who is also the co-director of the Birmingham Centre for Strategic Elements and Critical Materials.
While electric vehicles may not emit any carbon dioxide during their working lives, he’s concerned about what happens when they run out of road – in particular what happens to the batteries.
“In 10 to 15 years when there are large numbers coming to the end of their life, it’s going to be very important that we have a recycling industry,” he points out.
While most EV components are much the same as those of conventional cars, the big difference is the battery. While traditional lead-acid batteries are widely recycled, the same can’t be said for the lithium-ion versions used in electric cars.
EV batteries are larger and heavier than those in regular cars and are made up of several hundred individual lithium-ion cells, all of which need dismantling. They contain hazardous materials, and have an inconvenient tendency to explode if disassembled incorrectly.
Recent proposals from the European Union would see EV suppliers responsible for making sure that their products aren’t simply dumped at the end of their life, and manufacturers are already starting to step up to the mark.
Electric Car Batteries Environmental Impact
Are electric car batteries bad for the environment? Well, we’re here to tell you that the future of EV batteries looks bright.
EV batteries can be fed back into the energy cycle for factories, and homes once its life powering a car has come to an end. Repurposing EV batteries could create a closed-loop system for recycling. Meaning that the factories that produce the batteries could eventually be powered using the repurposed batteries once their lives powering vehicles comes to an end.
Large car manufacturers have already begun to repurpose EV batteries in other areas. For example, Nissan plans to use retired EV batteries to provide back-up power to the Amsterdam ArenA the world-famous entertainment venue and home to Ajax Football Club.
Toyota also plans to install retired batteries outside convenience stores in Japan in the near future. The batteries will be used to store power generated from solar panels. The energy stored will then be used to support the power of drink fridges, food warmers and fresh food counters inside stores.
With more of these opportunities arising, there will clearly be life beyond an EV. Once a battery has finished powering an electric vehicle, it can be used to power our homes and businesses.
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Powering Factory Tugs And Fork Lifts
In March 2019, Audi announced a plan to take old Audi e-tron batteries and use them to power factory equipment such as tugs and fork lifts. Tugs are used to move around small equipment, similar to baggage buggies at an airport. Previously both tugs and fork lifts were powered by lead-acid batteries, so a move to lithium-ion batteries will allow Audi to charge them up in a more renewable and sustainable way, along with saving them millions of dollars each year.
Audi will look to take 24 of the 36 battery modules from an e-tron and use these to make a smaller battery pack which will power the tugs and fork lifts with around 40 kWh of capacity .
Where Can Electric Car Batteries Be Re
As the used electric-vehicle battery market for energy storage is growing, demand might just surpass supply. However, this is a slow and, up to some point, uncertain growth. And the reasons for it are simultaneously simple and complex.
Repurposing batteries in order to re-use them for a different end such as charging stations or stationary energy storage is the logic exit for a battery leaving that leaves behind an electric vehicle. Only it is not as simple as taking a battery from one side to another.
Before sending batteries to be re-used, packs, modules, and cells need to be assessed on issues such as how long they can still hold a charge for and how charged they are at the moment. While the first is especially important to determine if it worth sending a battery to be re-used , assessing how much energy is stored matters for safety concerns in recycling processes. In either case , the road that follows is quite challenging.
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Breaking Down A Battery
EV batteries are complex pieces of technology, but on a basic level theyre not unlike the lithium ion battery inside your phone. Individual battery cells consist of a metal cathode , a graphite anode, a separator, and a liquid electrolyte typically composed of a lithium salt. As charged lithium ions flow from the anode to the cathode, an electrical current is generated.
A single one of these batteries is enough to power a phone. To run a car, thousands of cells must be bundled togethertypically in a series of modules that are wired together into battery packs and housed in a protective metal casing. Altogether, these giant electrochemical sandwiches can weigh upwards of a thousand pounds each .
Most of the valuable materials that recyclers want to extract are found in individual battery cells. But EV batteries are designed to hold up for many years and thousands of miles of use, not to be deconstructed to their components. For all sorts of very good reasons you can think of, you dont want them to come apart at the drop of a hat, says Paul Andersen, the principle investigator for for the Faraday Institutions Reuse and Recycling of Lithium Ion Batteries project at the University of Birmingham in the U.K.
While cobalt and nickel are often recovered at high rates, in most cases, lithium isnt valuable enough for recyclers to try and recycle it. If lithium is recovered, its often not at a quality suitable for making new batteries.
Dismantling Batteries: A Manual Dangerous And Expensive Process
Whatever happens next to a battery, after assessing its charge properties it needs to be dismantled by hand and here is where things get hard. Because of a batterys heavyweight and high voltages of traction, specialized insulation tools are needed, together with qualified mechanics to operate them.
Moreover, some studies point to the fact that in countries with high labor costs, the revenues from the extracted materials may not be economically worth it. Because of all this, automated disassembly techniques become part of the discussion as a possible solution.
Automation would eliminate the danger factor of the equation and as its development would overtime decrease its cost. Robots would also help improve the mechanical separation of materials and components, enhancing the purity of segregated materials and making downstream separation and recycling processes more efficient according to Harper et. al..
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How Safe Are Electric Car Batteries
The manufacturers of batteries for electric cars go to great lengths to make sure EV batteries are safe, fitting smart management systems to prevent overheating and other problems. Batteries do get warm as they charge and discharge, but cars are designed to keep them cool high performance EVs sometimes have liquid cooling systems to help.
Despite this, there have been some cases of electric cars catching fire, but very few of these incidents have been caused by battery failures. More typically they’ve resulted from accidents or incidents that might have caused any vehicle to catch fire – such as the 2013 case of a Tesla Model S which hit a large piece of metal at high speed. Commenting on that incident, which resulted in a limited fire, Tesla CEO Elon Musk pointed out that EV batteries contain only about a tenth of the energy of a tank full of fuel, limiting the danger they pose in an accident.
In fact, a 2017 study by the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that the likelihood and severity of fires from lithium-ion batteries was comparable to, or slightly less than that from conventional vehicles. As more electric vehicles take to the roads, we can be increasingly sure they’re as safe as the conventional cars they replace.
What Happens To Electric Vehicle Batteries When They Die
The rapid penetration of electric vehicles has led to questions on its most expensive component the battery. What happens to the batteries after 8-10 years of service when they retire from EVs due to capacity fade?
Volkswagen announced its ambitious target to build a million EVs by 2025 and has already got a plan for their used EV batteries. Earlier this year, Volkswagen unveiled its power bank for the e-car, a mobile rapid charger consisting of up to 360kWh second-life EV batteries that can charge up to four vehicles simultaneously. The second-life battery powered mobile charging stations provide a flexible and cost-efficient approach to the rapid expansion of the charging infrastructure, according to Volkswagen.
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How Do You Recharge An Electric Car Battery
You’ll get the fastest charge from a designated EV charging socket. These are rated in kW from about 3kW up to about 50kW – or 120kW on Tesla’s supercharger network. The higher the rating, the quicker they’ll restore your EV’s range.
The chargers most commonly fitted at a home or workplace are either 3kW ‘slow’ units, or 7kW ‘fast’ chargers capable of recharging an EV in 6-12 hours. The UK also has a growing network of public charging stations. These are typically either fast chargers rated at up to 22kW, or ‘rapid’ chargers capable of delivering up to 50kW. The fastest public charging stations can top an EV up to 80% of its range in as little as an hour the last 20% is usually a bit slower, to prevent damage to the batteries as they get near to full charge.
Where no designated charging point is available, you can charge an electric car from a 13-amp domestic plug socket, but this can be very slow. Because charging demands lots of power over a long period there may also be a risk of overheating or fire, so if you must do this you should have an electrician inspect the socket and wiring first.
Electric Car Battery Manufacturers
There are a large number of electric car battery manufacturers. Some are well known such as Tesla and Nissan, while others such as BYD or LG Chem, may not be as well-known around the world, but are nevertheless, significant players in the electric car battery manufacturing space. LG Chem, for instance, supply electric vehicle batteries for the likes of Volvo, Renault, Ford and Chevrolet. Not only that, but they have also signed an agreement with Telsa to supply all Telsa produced in China with batteries.
Another major electric vehicle manufacturer BYD is China’s largest electric vehicle manufacturer more than doubled its sales in December 2020 compared to the same time in 2019 and have been selling more battery-powered vehicles since the beginning of 2019. Not only are these battery manufacturers focusing on electric vehicles, but they are also working on battery storage of electricity for residential, commercial and industrial applications.
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Where Do Old Electric Vehicle Batteries Go To Die
At the end of my electric vehicle information talks, I often get asked variations on the theme of Where do old car batteries go to die?
My answer is they dont die! Rather, after seeing eight to 10 years service in a car, they can retire to a more gentle life in energy storage systems.
This is because lithium batteries do not catastrophically fail when they have reached the end of their useful vehicle service life. They may become less capable of dealing with the fast charge and discharge rates needed for accelerating a 1 to 2 tonne mass, or accepting a high rate of charge. But there is still plenty of life in them.
In fact, they are still very much capable of meeting the more gentle rates of charge and discharge seen in stationary storage systems for as many, or more, years as they saw life in a car.
I have even suggested that this is the ultimate solution to cheap 24/7 home storage systems and the more likely scenario for providing the majority of the support needed to create a robust renewable energy based electricity grid than the often touted V2G type systems.
One of the leaders in researching this type of second-life battery solution is the vehicle manufacturer Renault, which has just announced two new second-life battery programmes in conjunction with local partners.
One is the SmartHubs Project in West Sussex, and the other is the Advanced Battery Storage in Douai . These will be two of the largest projects of their types in Europe.
New And Improved Battery Technology
One hope for the future is the sodium-ion battery, which operates in much the same way as a lithium-ion unit and is similarly recyclable. Sodium is cheaper and far more abundant than lithium, so if sodium-ion batteries can be brought up to the same performance levels as lithium-ion ones, it could be a no-brainer.
Solid-state batteries are another likely battery technology of the future, as theyre much less flammable and potentially even more efficient than current lithium-ion cells. BMW and Toyota are just two of the manufacturers that have stated that theyll be using solid-state batteries in the near future. But how recyclable are solid-state batteries?
According to Peter Slater, professor of materials chemistry and co-director of the Birmingham Centre for Energy Storage, the recyclability of solid-state batteries “would present different challenges in terms of separating the components. In particular, it’s likely that it would need chemical separation routes, such as those being developed through the Faraday Institutions ReLib project.”
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Dismantling Electric Vehicle Batteries Is Too Complex For Robots
Electric vehicle batteries are hard for robots to crack. This happens because automation and robotics are based on repetitive tasks and electric batteries bring along challenging requirements such as design diversity.
There are different lithium-ion electric battery designs that dont allow a standardized automation process. Computer vision algorithms to recognize and differentiate different batteries, components and materials are being developed for use. However, for their tasks to be successfully fulfilled manufacturers need to print machine-readable features such as QR codes or labels or other on key battery elements.
Moreover, dismantling batteries means, for instance, unscrewing or dealing with bonding methods and fixtures that require strong work by robots with sensitive battery components. This leads to complicated dynamics and control problems like simultaneous force and motion control. Its a complex job, but one probably achievable in the future.
Existing Behind The Meter Pilot Projects
Several pilot projects exist for second-life LIBs used in customer energy management strategies, ranging from small to large-scale customers . For example, Nissans European headquarters in Paris, France features a 192kWh/144kW system composed of 12 second-life Nissan Leaf batteries. The system allows the headquarters to manage demand and take advantage of TOU electricity rates.
The Robert Mondavi Institute at UC Davis is another example of a behind-the-meter system that is paired with solar PV. In a project sponsored by the California Energy Commission , a 300-kWh system comprised of 18 repurposed Nissan leaf battery packs was assembled inside a shipping container.
On the larger end of customer demand, a cooperative effort between Nissan, Eaton, BAM and The Mobility House has led to the installation of a hybrid first-life/second-life system at the Johan Cruijff Arena, in Amsterdam, Netherlands. This system, comprised of 148 Nissan Leaf batteries, has a 3 MW power capacity and a 2.8 MWh electricity storage capacity. The battery system helps to decrease energy costs and provides up to one hour of back-up power to the arena. In 2016, a 13 MWh system was commissioned in Lunen, Germany based on 1,000 BMW i3 packs, approximately 90% of which are second-life batteries.
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