Are Electric Car Batteries Recyclable?


Most of the world is now viewing electric cars as one of the best ways we can help reduce our carbon footprint in the world. Once an electric car is dead though, can you recycle the battery? Most of the countries in the world are currently focused heavily on taking better care of the planet. That means preserving natural resources we have better, trying to reduce emissions, and overall trying to keep the earth cleaner and healthier for everyone who lives here. One of the things that get scrutinized very hard under this light is transportation, which is electric car batteries.

So, are electric batteries recyclable? It is possible to recycle electric car batteries. The recycling of batteries is quite difficult and should be done in a specific way, but it is better for the environment if it is recycled. Oftentimes, you can even get incentives and money for recycling your electric car battery.

Across the world, we have millions of cars, buses, trains, and airplanes that all rely on internal combustion to propel them around. While this mode of transportation is a tried and proven way to get people around, due to the nature of the engine it emits toxic fumes. As such, a significant amount of research, time, and money have been put into finding alternative methods to get from point A to point B with less effect on our environment.

The Process Of How Electric Car Batteries Are Recycled

Unfortunately, electric cars can still have an impact on the environment. All of the materials that make up electric cars have to be mined, refined, and processed in order for it to be useable. From there, the manufacturing of the car still produces emissions. As such, the acquisition of materials and the manufacturing of the car are some of the “blotches” in an electric car’s life.

Recycling components of your electric car can greatly help reduce future pollution and waste. Taking a battery full of precious metals and materials and reusing parts of it reduces the need for more new materials to be mined and processed. So, how exactly are electric car batteries recycled?

First off, it’s important to note that recycling electric car batteries can be difficult and very expensive as there are a lot of challenges involved with this recycling process. The first big hurdle is transportation. Electric car batteries are fairly large and they are heavy enough that they can’t be transported by plane. Additionally, because they are lithium-ion batteries, there are risks of explosion or fire while transporting. There are specially made cases for transporting electric car batteries, so these cases will be loaded up into trucks and taken to the recycling facility.

From here, the battery can now be recycled. This usually starts by shredding the battery. Once the battery has been shredded into lots of smaller pieces, it will be broken down so that the valuable materials can be extracted, which is often done using heat or chemicals. In the case of some electric car batteries, they are broken down by being frozen. If the battery can still hold a charge, it will be frozen with liquid nitrogen. From there it will be smashed into small pieces while frozen.

Depending on how far the battery has to be transported, the cost of recycling the battery can end up costing more than mining the new materials for a new battery. Oftentimes this recycling can be cost-effective although this isn’t always the case. As the recycling infrastructure grows and as the technology behind it improves, this will become more beneficial going forward.

Brief History Of The Electric Car And Its Battery

This has led to the birth of many different types of vehicles. First off was the hybrid. This is a car that utilizes a small internal combustion engine and also a small battery to turn some electric motors. This offers a greatly increased fuel economy. In addition, many hybrid vehicles can run as fully electric cars for short distances.

From there, the completely electric car was born. This was a car with a large battery pack and larger electric motors. In the early days of electric cars, these still didn’t have great range. You could often get about 60 miles max on a full charge. Electric cars today can get over 300 miles on a full charge and we will only see that number increase as the technology continues to improve. Electric cars are quickly becoming the cars of the future because they emit zero emissions while driving and can be easily charged from almost anywhere.

Along with electric cars and hybrids, several other alternative energy technologies have emerged and we will likely continue to see even more. Probably the next most prominent type of “green car” out there would be the hydrogen fuel-cell car. These also boast zero emissions like electric cars. Unfortunately, these are far less popular than electric cars. This is largely due to the fact that finding a hydrogen filling station is completely impossible in some states and depending on where you live in other states, it could be a very long drive to get to the nearest one.

How Much Of An Electric Car Battery Can Be Recycled?

You may wonder how much of your electric car battery can be recycled. It turns out, lithium-ion batteries are great for being recycled. In fact, your electric car battery will actually get re-purposed long before it makes it to a recycling center.

When your electric car battery gets to the point where it is no longer usable for driving a car, it actually still has quite a bit of life left in it. In fact, it generally will still have around 80% of its charge at that point. As such, these batteries will often get connected to the electric grid. This helps to supplement alternative energy sources such as windmills, solar panels, and hydropower. The batteries can hold a charge so that even if the weather isn’t optimal, the system can output a steady amount of power.

Once the batteries are no longer usable there, they can be transferred to a recycling facility. Here is where the battery will actually be broken down. There are a lot of expensive materials in an electric car battery but the most expensive is cobalt. This material is the most valuable one obtained through recycling. In addition, lithium, nickel, and many other materials can be recycled. In fact, over 90% of the battery can be recycled.

In addition, there is a significant amount of wiring and plastics that make up the entire battery. These can be removed fairly easily and can also be recycled. There are places where people are required to recycle up to a certain amount of the battery. This is often the low-hanging fruit that most companies will shoot for. For example, the EU created a Battery Directive in which they require that at least 50% of a battery gets recycled. Without expertise in the recycling process, the battery cell itself can be much more difficult.

Where To Recycle Electric Car Batteries

You may wonder where you can take your electric car battery to get it recycled. First off, you will want to google what recycling establishments are near you. There are usually a lot of different options. If there is a facility near you, you can take your battery straight there. Oftentimes, you can even take your entire electric car there and they will remove the battery for you. Additionally, you can have the battery removed by a certified mechanic and shipped off to the nearest recycling facility.

There is another option that is becoming more and more popular. Since everything is shifting towards remote service, you can buy a car online and have it delivered to your door. No more going to different dealerships to try to find what you want, you can get it all ordered from the comfort of your home. Likewise, you can get your electric car battery recycled from the comfort of your home. There are many recyclers who will do next-day pickups in any state in the United States. That means no matter where you are, you can have your battery taken away to be recycled quickly.

As the infrastructure behind electric cars continues to grow, the options for recycling your electric car battery will grow as well. You will see far more local options for recycling as well as more incentives for getting your battery recycled. With the huge push for electric cars that are being made by all automotive manufacturers, there is no way that the electric battery recycling infrastructure and technology won’t improve significantly.

How Electric Car Battery Recycling Can Be Improved

There is a lot of room for improvement as far as electric car battery recycling goes. The first big thing that can be improved is the recycling infrastructure. Recycling lithium-ion batteries is far more complicated than recycling most other metals. The processes are more difficult and even the transportation regulations can be very difficult. As such, there are not a lot of facilities across the country or even around the world that recycle electric car batteries.

Over time, we will likely see this infrastructure increase drastically. As the processes become simpler to implement, it will allow recycling companies to profit more from recycling electric car batteries. As such, more competition will start to emerge.

As the infrastructure is currently limited, electric car batteries often have to travel large distances to a recycling facility. This can be extremely costly. Transporting lithium-ion batteries requires special containers to hold the extremely heavy batteries. As such, it is often more cost-effective to ship an entire car across the country than it is to ship just the battery. As more and more recycling facilities are available locally, the need for long trips to transport the batteries will disappear. This will significantly help reduce the cost of recycling the batteries.

The processes also have a lot of room for improvement. Currently, the lithium-ion batteries are shredded up into small pieces, then the pieces can start to be processed. That is how you can get materials such as nickel or cobalt back out of the battery in order to use them again. Through this process, parts of the battery are lost completely and have no chance of recycling.

Particularly, the anode and cathode both are lost. If the companies were able to preserve and reuse both of those, it would significantly reduce the amount of work needed to build new ones and help reduce the environmental impact of the recycling process.

There is a lot of work underway to move to newer methods for this process. There are several researchers who have found a way to use ultrasonic waves to recycle both the anode and the cathode. This is reported to save about 60% of the cost of using new materials. That is a huge jump in the cost of recycling that has yet to be implemented but is already being patented. As technology like this becomes more widespread throughout the country, we will see simpler, cheaper recycling with more incentives and the overall process will be much greener.

Additionally, there are other methods being studied for saving critical components of a battery. For example, the Department of Energy has launched a program known as ReCell. This program is looking to use thermal and solvent-based methods to preserve the cathode of these electric car batteries.

A large problem in the US is that hardly any cathodes are produced in the US. As such, if a battery is being recycled, the materials have to be sent out to a different country, turned back into a cathode, and then sent back to the US. This obviously costs quite a bit more because there are not many cathode producers inside the country. A big problem the US will have to overcome if they want recycling to be profitable is building better infrastructure for electric cars. Dependency on other countries leads to increased costs of recycling and a larger overall environmental impact from recycling.

As you can see, there are a few big things that need to change in the electric battery recycling world before it becomes profitable for those involved. This also makes sense from an environmental perspective. We will continue to see the things we have mentioned be implemented over the next few years, we will also likely be surprised by several new technologies that haven’t even been considered up to this point.

The Environmental Impact Of Recycling Vs. Not Recycling Electric Car Batteries

You might be wondering what kind of impact recycling an electric car battery actually has. Electric cars, while they are great for being driven around, are fantastic for the environment. They produce zero emissions and can be recharged at home with the power you are using for everything else at your house. This power also can be generated through geothermal, hydro, wind, solar, or nuclear methods. The same power that can be used for your car is being produced in a less impactful way.

Throughout the life of the car, these batteries leave next to no impact on the environment. Where they are hard on the environment is when the cars are being manufactured and produced. What is especially hard on the environment is the mining and processing of the materials that make up the lithium-ion batteries. The processes and equipment needed to make a useable battery leave a pretty good-sized environmental footprint.

By recycling lithium-ion batteries, you forgo the need for new materials to be mined and processed. This skips over the cycle in an electric car battery’s life which does make an impact on our environment. While processes are still needed to recycle the battery materials and make them usable again, the environmental footprint of these processes is much larger than that of building an entirely new battery from scratch.

This is where recycling electric car batteries becomes a huge win for the environment. Not having to go through environmentally harmful processes makes electric cars that much better for the environment. Mining and processing methods will likely improve significantly to reduce the environmental impact that they may cause over the next few years. As such, we will continue to see electric cars become a better way to provide transportation with as small of an effect as possible on the environment.

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