Lux Research: Recycling, not Reuse, Is the Better Choice for Batteries from Retired EVs

6 months ago by Mark Kane 21

Recycling, rather than reuse, is likely to be the more attractive option for up to 65 GWh of second-life batteries poised to enter the market in 2035 with the retirement of the first generation of plug-in vehicles, according to Lux Research

Recycling, rather than reuse, is likely to be the more attractive option for up to 65 GWh of second-life batteries poised to enter the market in 2035 with the retirement of the first generation of plug-in vehicles, according to Lux Research

Lux Research, after investigating second-life EV batteries, states that recycling cells from today’s first generation batteries is a better choice than actually reusing them in energy storage systems.

The surprising thesis undermines an appealing idea, because the economics of reusing don’t make sense says Lux Research’s report – Reuse or Recycle: The Billion-Dollar Battery Question.

A second life for used batteries

A second life for used batteries

Lux Research states that recycling is likely to be the more attractive option for the up to ~65 GWh of second-life batteries that are poised to enter the market in 2035.

On one hand the pricing of new lithium-ion batteries continues to fall, while the older batteries needs to be repacked and tested before reuse – and even then, they potentially have lower efficiency and a shallower dept of discharge.

Green Car Congress makes the following comparison and observations:

“An oversized 11.2 kWh residential system from second-life batteries will cost just over $4,600, compared with nearly $6,000 for a new 7 kWh system. However, reduced round-trip efficiency and cycle life make residential units and other daily cycling applications a poor fit compared to some others.”

“Lux Research analysts evaluated the technology landscape for recycling batteries and identified potential applications for second-life batteries. Among their findings:

  • Recycling technologies are varied. Of all the recycling technologies, pyrometallurgical processing, or smelting, is the most mature and can recover key metallic elements. Mechanical processing can recover valuable cathode materials directly, and hydrometallurgical processing can be lower cost.
  • Tesla backs recycling. Automakers are choosing a wide array of applications for reuse of batteries. BMW and Nissan are commercializing residential storage products, while Daimler has started operating a large 13 MWh system. Tesla, on the other hand, pursues recycling as its NCA cathodes are not suitable for most stationary storage needs.
  • Reuse options are limited. Second-life batteries offer only limited cost savings, especially as new cell prices continue to fall. Still, with more efficient testing, sorting, and repackaging, second-life systems could be made more competitive for applications like demand response and backup power.”

Christopher Robinson, Lux Research Associate and lead author of the report said:

“With present technology, recycling old batteries for new materials is the more economical option for creating the most value from existing materials.”

“That said, innovations in areas like packaging and testing could tip the balance in the future, so companies should have plans for both recycling and reuse,”

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21 responses to "Lux Research: Recycling, not Reuse, Is the Better Choice for Batteries from Retired EVs"

  1. MTN Ranger says:

    I don’t see a big difference in the end. Either way, it’s better than a landfill.

    1. Mikael says:

      Nothing should ever end up in a landfill, period.

      1. Terawatt says:

        Where would you put the dead?

        1. Mikael says:

          Make biofuels of them 😉

          Morbid jokes (with some seriousness to it 😛 ) aside. I meant your traditional garbage landfills, where hopefully not many dead bodies ends up today.

          Norway putting <1% of municipal waste into landfills puts you in a group of few countries that thankfully don't use landfills anymore. Sweden, Germany, the Netherlands, Austria, Belgium and Denmark being other countries in that group.

  2. MikeG says:

    I can agree with the assessment of this report.
    It would be interesting to know what the cost is to build a new battery from a used battery.
    Also, once recycling facilities are built, the cost of a used battery may rise as the value of the chemical components may be more than someone is willing to pay for a used battery.

  3. ModernMarvelFan says:

    I am fine with either as long as they aren’t “wasted” or put in landfill.

  4. Jay D says:

    For all the press releases by Nissan about second-use, and even contracts with a few companies for that purpose, the Hurricane Sandy-flooded cars weren’t salvaged by Nissan, and it seems that the vast majority of collision-damaged salvage packs are going into hobbyist hands. I’ve salvaged three pristine LEAF packs from wrecking yards, each after it had been listed on major B2B websites for months….

    1. Alaa says:

      May I ask how much much was the pack for?

  5. William says:

    Reuse til it’s not economical, then recycle.
    Mankind is hungry for energy, there is never enough energy to use.

  6. Some Guy says:

    ““An oversized 11.2 kWh residential system from second-life batteries will cost just over $4,600, compared with nearly $6,000 for a new 7 kWh system. However, reduced round-trip efficiency and cycle life make residential units and other daily cycling applications a poor fit compared to some others.””
    What the hell are these guys talking about. Don’t they have internet to check out Tesla’s pricing for a 14 kWh powerwall already today?
    Also, why should anyone pay 4600 bucks on a 15 to 20 year old 11.2 kWh battery in 2035?

  7. pjwood1 says:

    disagree. “Recycle” is an effort to protect market. Lux is more likely working for battery makers, than re-use interests. Re-use is a cottage industry waiting to happen. Anecdotal quotes on used 16-22kwh Volt or Leaf batteries are $1-3k, not 4k for ~10kwh. A lot of cars dont last 10 years, leaving GWh of good storage behind. That’s a problem for ESS suppliers.

    1. JakeY says:

      The article is talking about an equivalent packaged solution, not the bare modules that hobbyists.

      A 4.2kWh unit using used cells costs $4.5k:
      http://insideevs.com/nissan-introduces-its-own-powerwall-xstorage-from-e4000-4500usd-installed/

      The 14kWh Powerwall 2.0 costs only $5500 with the inverter (the included inverter a huge difference).
      https://www.tesla.com/powerwall

      Why would anyone want to buy the one with the used battery cells? JB Straubel said similar also. Tesla originally planned reuse, but the math just didn’t work out when new cells have gotten so much cheaper. They get more value out of the material by recycling it and making it into new cells.

      Reuse will probably remain a mostly hobbyist thing, until battery prices stabilize.

  8. Djoni says:

    By that projection, it means no more than 1 million to 2 million EV will be on the road in 2021, fourteen years prior to their end of life.
    It does seem low IMO.

  9. Ambulator says:

    Reuse has always looked too fiddly for business, although it’s great for hobbyists. I’m glad to see someone important finally agrees.

    1. Alaa says:

      It is not great for hobbyists. Look at the prices of these packs.

      http://hybridautocenter.com/HAC4/index.php?option=com_hikashop&ctrl=category&task=listing&cid=14&name=lithium-batteries-and-packs&Itemid=605

      It is about $340 per kWh for the pack

      Tesla sells the Powerwall for $392 per kWh including the inverter and it is almost plug and play. It is also IP67 so you can put it outdoor in the rain sun shine etc. Who can do that as a hobbyist?

      I think the used price is way too high for now. It should come down dramatically.

      1. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

        “I think the used price is way too high for now. It should come down dramatically.”

        But that’s the point. Why is the price for used batteries so high, when there is so little demand? It’s probably due to it being a cottage industry; with low volume comes high prices.

        But that apparently inflated price is what is being used in Lux’s analysis, hence the conclusion that I find rather questionable.

        Better volume would likely mean significantly lower prices; prices at which it would make sense to buy used batteries. If that happens, then the analysis shown here becomes irrelevant.

        1. Terawatt says:

          Low volume, and quickly improving technology. Three, five or eight year old cell phones also aren’t in high demand, and nobody expects those to be twice as good next year as this year…

          In time it might make sense, maybe. But for now, new upgrade packs is more likely to work than used packs.

          I wonder when we will get a news update on Kreisel electric. Their battery (pack) factory is set to open in March.

  10. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

    Not sure the argument here makes sense. Seems to me it boils down to “Buying second-life batteries won’t save you much money, so it’s better to recycle them.” As evidence, Lux cites this case: “An oversized 11.2 kWh residential system from second-life batteries will cost just over $4,600, compared with nearly $6,000 for a new 7 kWh system.”

    But why should this be true? We know that many PEV (Plug-in EV) batter packs are going to the junkyard, because there are lots of reports of battery packs salvaged from the junkyard being used by DIYers to build their own home energy storage system. If repackaged battery packs cost more than they’re worth, it’s probably because it’s not being done enough to get any economy of scale.

    The market for reusing old battery packs needs to be expanded. If the prices don’t make sense for doing that now, perhaps it’s because that’s being done in far too few quantities. Mass produced PEVs haven’t been on the market long enough to be aged out. The battery packs salvaged from scrap yards are mostly or entirely from wrecked PEVs. When Volts and Leafs which started to be sold at the end of 2010 start being scrapped en masse, then perhaps it will make sense for repackaging battery packs to be done on a scale larger than a cottage industry.

    Right now, I don’t think we have sufficient real-world data on the cost of bulk repackaging of li-ion battery packs to state whether or not, long term, it makes sense to repackage them rather than tear the cells apart and re-use the precursor materials.

    But as has been said in comments above, either way is a win for the environment. Reuse or recycle; just don’t throw them into the landfill! At least not until the last bit of usefulness has been wrung out of them.

    1. BenG says:

      Yep, good comments. I think re-use of batteries can and will be economical, but maybe not very soon. Seems like rebuilding for re-use in it’s primary role in a car as a low cost option to keep an older EV on the road would be the primary demand.

      As that market fades as the EVs are retired at end-of-life/obsolescence, if the car were high enough volume and the batteries of sufficient quality, it seems that rebuilding/packaging for re-use in stationary applications could well make sense.

      But, yeah, it needs to be high volume to make sense. Maybe the Leaf has sold enough world-wide for a second-life ecosystem in the 2020s as the lizard battery Leafs are retired? Maybe we haven’t hit the threshold yet, or maybe they are too low volume.

      The paper recommends that automakers plan for both recycling and reuse. It will be decades before EV batteries become a significant resource. Say in 2020 we have achieved some mass market success with the Model 3 selling hundreds of thousands per year. 15 years from then, there will be a significant amount of used batteries hitting the market. But enough to create a re-use economy of scale? I’m sure Tesla is thinking about this kind of stuff.

    2. ItsNotAboutTheMoney says:

      It’s important to remember that to get any economies of scale, there would have to be a lot of used batteries available, which would mean they would be quite old.

      To get these remanufactured batteries you would have the additional steps of:
      – collecting old batteries
      – disassemble old batteries

      So, you have a bunch of overhead and you’d be selling a product with lower capacity or density, and shorter life than a product that uses new cells. Shorter life means you multiply system overheads and lower capacity multiplies the number of cells to get matching performance.

      If there are improvements in cell cost and density over time as expected, it eats further into the cost advantage.

      If we want PEVs to succeed we should want falling costs and improved capabilities, so really we should hope that second use becomes something limited to hobbyists.

  11. koz says:

    Maybe true someday but BS today