Why recycling electric car batteries is just as important as the cars themselves


Electric vehicles are on their way to widespread use thanks to improved technology and prices, government incentives, commitments from carmakers, the fight against climate change and sky-high fuel prices. Paul Anderson, Professor of Strategic Elements and Material Sustainability at the University of Birmingham, told the BBC that ”
the pace at which we develop the industry [des véhicules
électriques] is completely scary
“. He fears one battery bomb ‘In 10 to 15 years, when it will be necessary to deal with the massive recycling of these accumulators.

That is not to say that electric cars will not make the big difference, but that they should improve on a more complex problem than it seems. It must be a better overall solution, not just a car without exhaust. This requires a battery life cycle program built around the four “Rs”: reuse, reuse, reuse and reduce.

Reuse

The best way to prevent an electric vehicle battery from becoming a problem is to be able to recycle it. This may involve recovering batteries in good condition from damaged vehicles to install them in other cars, or moving towards replaceable battery systems, as recommended by VinFast, Nio and Ample. No matter how recycling is implemented, it is the most direct way to take full advantage of an electric car battery.

The principle of recycling will become a more significant concept as the number of electric cars on the roads increases, creating a larger market for the used car spare parts sector. But recycling does not circumvent the fact that a battery at some point loses its capacity and becomes unfit to operate an electric vehicle. This is where the second “R” comes in.

Reconvert

When an electric car battery is removed and used in another application, it is said to be converted back. At Nissan, the 4R Energy program describes these batteries as Category B or C. Category B batteries can be used regularly but less intensively, for example to drive electrical barriers at railroad crossings or off-road electric vehicles, such as forklifts, which do not raise concerns about their autonomy. Category C batteries are degraded to the point that they can only be used for tasks such as emergency LED lighting of buildings where consumption is intermittent and generally low.

With 4R Energy, Nissan and Sumitomo focus on recycling and reuse. 4R energy

Volkswagen and Electrify America are among the companies in favor of recycling batteries for electric vehicles at charging stations, where they can store solar energy or cheap electricity in the low season.

To recycle

Recycling electric vehicle batteries is a big enough challenge for former Tesla technical director JB Straubel to leave the company to dedicate himself to founding the startup Redwood Materials. The company likes to say that ”
the largest lithium and cobalt mines in the western hemisphere are in our country’s bins
not to mention the floor in our electric cars.

Lithium, nickel, cobalt and other materials found in the battery of an electric vehicle are a toxicity problem that recycling must solve.

Reduce

This is not a technological solution, but rather an intellectual one. The reduction is based on the idea that electric cars need the right range, not the maximum range. Once this idea is assimilated, buyers of an electric car can move towards an affordable model with a range of 300 km instead of choosing one that is capable of driving 600 or 800 km, which costs much more and requires a battery. This helps reduce the total tonnage of batteries produced, making the previous 3R easier to perform.

The battery life cycle is likely to interest most buyers as much as the payback curve for their new car or the calculation of total cost of ownership. It is also a key issue to maximize the benefits of the upcoming transition to electric cars.

CNET.com article adapted by CNETFrance

Image: Redwood Materials

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