Are Electric Vehicles Less Recyclable Than Conventional Automobiles?



The Automotive Recycler’s Association recently released a report that claims “roughly 86 percent of the material components of U.S. cars are recycled or reused after those cars are off the road.”  At 86 percent, the automotive industry in the near the top of the chart in this regard, but how will droves of plug-in vehicles impact this figure?

Li-Ion is Recyclable

Li-Ion is Recyclable

Well, recycling certain components found of plug-in vehicles presents a challenge and it’s one the Automotive Recycler’s Association argues might hurt the industry’s spectacular 86-percent figure.

Certain toxic components found in plug-in vehicles will initially be more difficult to recycle until processes are put in place to deal with parts such as lithium-ion batteries, which some say will be the most difficult component to recycle.

It’s well known that lithium-ion batteries can’t be handled via current recycling processes used for the automobile’s traditional lead-acid battery.  Li-ion packs are infinitely more complex than lead-acid and adding to the difficulty is massive weight.  Lead is commonly extracted from batteries, melted and reused in other applications.  This process is relatively simple.  But hauling a 600 lb-plus lithium-ion battery to a recycler is an ordeal in itself and then recycling any of the useable components is both difficult and potentially dangerous.

Hmm...Lithium-Ion Batteries Don't Belong in There

Hmm…Lithium-Ion Batteries Don’t Belong in There

The newness of lithium-ion automotive batteries means that most recyclers haven’t even established a process for dealing with these units.  In fact, there are only a few such recyclers in the world that can currently deal with automotive type li-ion packs.  But as time passes and thousands of these battery packs are dispensed of on an annual basis, an industry to support such actions will certainly pop up.  If there’s money to be made, then you can bet a competitive industry will appear.

It’s believed that lithium-ion batteries are roughly 80 percent (some estimates say 100%) recyclable, but some experts say it’s more expensive (5 times according to some sources) for battery manufacturers to use recycled lithium than it is to mine virgin lithium.  That’s why recycled lithium is typically sold not to battery makers, but to other industries, mainly to construction companies.

But a recycling industry needs to be established soon.  According to a Frost & Sullivan report, 500,000 lithium-ion battery packs will be ready for recycling annually by the early 2020s.  That’s a figure that can’t be ignored for long and if that amount proves to be true, then you can bet that all sorts of firms will have hands in an industry that could net them millions or maybe even billions of dollars per year.

Will the widespread acceptance of plug-in vehicle hurt the Automotive Recycler’s Association track record for recycling?  Maybe, but we doubt the negative impact will last for long.

via ThomasNet

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6 Comments on "Are Electric Vehicles Less Recyclable Than Conventional Automobiles?"

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A recycling system/market does need to be established. But unlike lead-acid car batteries, the plug-in vehicle batteries are more likely to find re-use in stationary applications before they head to the recycler. This could add an extra 5 – 10 years into the lifecycle.

Exactly. Reduce, REUSE, then Recycle.

That was spelled out pretty well in the original article.

I thought the used batteries would be sold to ABB? (or others).

They could also turn them into more duck & screech owl houses.

A “junk” lithium ion traction pack would be worth more than a new lead acid pack, for use in home PV systems.

Confused… A recycling industry for lithium batteries outside of automotive has been in place for more than a decade. They already process a number & mass of lithium ion batteries used in computer & other modern electronic far exceeds that used in electric vehicles.

Lithium ion batteries removed from autos will have over half of their capacity so will have a high value. (Could be as high as 70-80% retained capacity in 7-10 years.) The service life for removed automotive batteries will likely be just as long in “secondary life” providing energy storage. Most likely use are for solar building, or helping balance regional girds as more renewable energy sources are added (wind, sat, etc.).

Reality for next few years will be a demand for post-automotive lithium ion batteries will exceed supply. What wil hold back the market for secondary-use lithium ion batteries is availability of replacement EV packs. Virtually no EV manufacture has announced availability, or pricing. OEMs may be holding out on providing replacement packs till next generation chemistry reaches production in 3-4 years?