Electric car batteries can be reused as home power batteries
- VW’s pilot recycling plant in Salzgitter, Germany has the capacity to recycle 3,600 battery systems per year.
- Several other battery recycling companies are expected to go live, both in the United States and in Asia.
- VW says current battery recycling methods only recover around 60% of the material, while its new plant can recover up to 95% of the material from a battery pack.
When your kid looks at you with those big, innocent eyeballs and asks, “Where do lithium-ion electric car batteries go when they die?” Without hesitation – because kids this age always think you know everything – you read them this article:
Mighty Volkswagen – the automaker that looks as if it would one day become the world leader in the production of electric cars – it now looks like it could become a world leader in the recycling of electric car batteries, with the announcement of the opening of its first factory recycling center in Salzgitter, Germany. OK, to a project of 3600 recycled batteries per year, maybe that won’t lead to the world, but this will certainly lead to the recycling of batteries in Lower Saxony, between Hildesheim and Braunschweig. Overall all that battery recycling stuff is still being sorted out.
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For example, in the United States, former Tesla CTO JB Straubel runs a battery recycling company called Redwood Materials, located not far from Tesla’s battery manufacturing Gigafactory outside of Reno, in Nevada. A Canadian company called Li-Cycle will begin construction of the largest battery recycling plant in North America at the former Eastman Kodak complex in Rochester, New York. And there are many more recycling efforts underway in China and Korea, where most of the world’s batteries are made.
The idea of recycling used electric car batteries makes sense because using recycled materials in battery production is much cheaper and less damaging to the environment than extracting new materials.
“We know from many years of research that recycled raw materials from batteries are just as effective as new ones,” said Mark Möller, head of technical development at Volkswagen Group Components. “We plan to support our cell production in the future with the material that we have recovered. We really want to use every possible gram of recovered material as the demand for batteries is increasing dramatically. “
However, its practice is only just beginning. The VW plant in Salzgitter is officially a pilot plant. The Li-Cycle factory has not yet been built. But Redwood Materials has been recycling for some time now.
“We have become the largest recycler of lithium-ion batteries in North America, receiving 60 tonnes per day or 20,000 tonnes of batteries per year,” said a spokesperson. “We have partnered with the two largest battery manufacturers in North America: Panasonic at the Tesla Gigafactory and Envision AESC, to recycle all production waste (cathode and anode, cells and modules that do not pass validation and cannot be fixed) towards creating a sustainable supply chain and substantial savings that will be passed on to future electric vehicles and energy products. Redwood is focused on continuously and relentlessly improving the recycling economy through technology to lower the cost of materials and ensure a sustainable circular economy for those materials. “
A recent article in IEEE Spectrum, the official magazine of the Institute of Electric and Electronics Engineers, quotes Circular Energy Storage consultants as saying that around 100 companies around the world are recycling batteries or planning to do so. IEEE says there are “several dozen” startups in North America and Europe. These include not only Li-Cycle and Redwood Materials, but also the Swedish company Northvolt and the Norwegian company Hydro.
“These startups aim to automate, streamline and clean up what has been a laborious, inefficient and dirty process,” Spectrum said. “Traditionally, battery recycling involves either burning them to recover some of the metals, or crushing the batteries and treating the resulting ‘black mass’ with solvents.”
VW has plans for a cleaner and more efficient process.
“Because EV batteries contain a complex mix of materials, current methods of recycling batteries essentially require melting them in a furnace, which only recovers about 60% of the materials inside,” VW said. “The process being developed at the Salzgitter plant uses several mechanical steps designed to recover up to 95% of the materials in a battery pack for reuse. In an 880-pound battery, the plant can recover approximately 220 pounds of key electrode minerals like lithium, nickel, cobalt, and manganese. “
Nissan, meanwhile, has a number of “second life battery” initiatives for its LEAF electric car batteries. These include the installation of second-life LEAF batteries at its North American facilities, as well as the study of new recycling methods for lithium-ion batteries. Nissan is also the first automaker to receive certification for LEAF second-life batteries for use in stationary energy storage.
Recycling is just one way to manage batteries. Following the mantra of reduce, reuse, recycle would mean several different things.
Reduce: Do you really need 100 kWh of battery power on your electric car? Do you really need a range of 250 or 300 miles or more? At present, it is important to have more than 100 kWh of batteries and several hundred kilometers of autonomy. Maybe not everyone needs a lot. Most urban commuters can get by on a much smaller battery. The Mitsubishi iMiEV when it was on sale here came with a 16kWh battery, good for 62 miles of range. Are gigantic batteries the unnecessary aerodynamic fins of the modern automotive age?
Reuse: Tesla offers the Powerwall, a home battery that stores energy produced by your solar panels during the day for clean energy use later at night. A few other companies offer something similar. But these use new batteries. The idea of using spent but still usable batteries from electric cars as home energy storage media has been around for some time, but other than some DIY enthusiasts, the idea has not yet caught on.
A recent study by researchers at MIT suggests that used electric car batteries could be the affordable buffer needed to store clean energy from solar or wind for use at night or when the wind dies. The study was based on a theoretical solar power installation in California.
“They found that the new battery installation would not provide a reasonable net return on investment, but that a properly managed used EV battery system could be a good, worthwhile investment. Economically, there are also questions: are we sure there is enough value left in these batteries to justify the cost of removing them from cars, collecting, checking, and repackaging in a new? application? For the case modeled in local California conditions, the answer appears to be an emphatic yes, the team found. “
So, getting back to the original question: where do your car’s batteries go when they die (or drop below 80% efficiency)? We don’t know exactly where yet, but there’s a good chance they’ll be reused in a stationary application and then recycled into new batteries. Wait a few years and find out.
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