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,”