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
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
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.