Batteries electric vehicle battery

Published on July 23rd, 2015 | by Jeff McIntire-Strasburg


The Electric Vehicle Battery “Can And Should Be Recycled”

July 23rd, 2015 by  

Critics of electric vehicles like to argue that they’re really not greener than gas-powered cars: those tailpipe emissions just move to the source of electricity (which, in the US, is often coal or natural gas), and that electric vehicle battery will eventually require disposal. The first argument doesn’t take into account the efficiency of electric motors — which still means lower emissions — and the second ignores the fact that the batteries for EVs are recyclable.

Paul Nadjarian, the CEO of Mojo Motors, addressed the second issue last week in a post at sustainablog. Let us know what you think in the comments…

Battery Recycling: How We’ll Keep Electric Vehicle Batteries Out Of Landfills

electric cars charging

In an attempt to reduce carbon emissions, American policy makers set out to have one million electric plug-in vehicles on the road by 2015. While the environmental benefits of electric and hybrid vehicles are clear, they do come with certain challenges. By far the biggest challenge is figuring out what is to be done with the electric plug-in and hybrid batteries after they are finished being used.

The good news is that, according to Joseph Acker, the President of Retriev Technologies, a battery recycling company, “All car batteries can and should be recycled.”

The most important component of vehicle batteries is lithium. Lithium is already in high demand as it used in rechargeable batteries for laptops, mobile phones, and digital cameras. In 2015 the estimated demand for Lithium is 138,500-265,000 tons and in 2020 the demand may reach 175,000 to 500,000 tons, with most of the demand going towards batteries.

Currently the majority of the world’s supply of lithium comes from Bolivia, Argentina and Chile. While recycling batteries to extract lithium makes perfect sense, financially it is not worth it since the cost to recycle the lithium exceeds the cost of mining new lithium.

Most of the value in recycling car batteries comes from the amount of nickel, cobalt, iron and other metals for reuse. Mr. Acker explains, “the difference in battery values depends on the nickel and cobalt content. There is a trend where manufacturers are trying to reduce the amount of nickel and cobalt in batteries but this trend is reaching a lower threshold based upon performance.” The manufacturers are trying to reduce costs but if this results in inferior batteries they could be forced to change their ways.

While most of the batteries are made with Lithium, not all electric plug-in and hybrid batteries use it. Many early hybrids like the Toyota Prius, Honda Insight, and Honda Civic hybrid run on a nickel-metal hydride battery. The NiMH battery is a better alternative to lead since it is lighter weight and can store more energy. That said, NiMH batteries do have their disadvantages including a high rate of self-discharge. Also the cadmium in the batteries is toxic and can’t be put in landfills so they’re seen as worse for the environment.

Most consumers that drive a hybrid or electric vehicle care greatly about the environment so it’s important to ensure that the battery is disposed of properly. For consumers that see their vehicle until the end of its life, what options are there for the battery? The battery should not be sent to a random scrapyard to be recycled, as the parts need to be processed properly. Throwing away these batteries is not an option as they can be hazardous and cause pollution. If an electric car battery is mishandled it could be a potential fire hazard or give off a shock.

In order to ensure that the battery is disposed of properly, Mr. Acker says, “ The likely place to dispose of an electric battery is the manufacturer’s dealership (if the vehicle still has life remaining) and an auto salvage yard (if the vehicle has reached end of life.  The best place to dispose of an electric battery is Retriev Technologies, the only Li Ion Battery Recycling Facility in the USA.” In Japan, Honda developed a process where customers can drop off their used batteries to dealers and rare metals are reused in new batteries.

Once they’ve been used, the batteries only retain about 70-80% of their original capacity so while this is not enough to use in a vehicle they can still find other uses. The US Department of Energy awarded $9.5 million to Toxco in order to build the first recycling facility for lithium-ion car batteries. Major electric car battery manufacturers such as Tesla have already begun to send battery packs to them.

Until proper infrastructure is in place there have been alternative ideas as to what to do with the batteries. One possibility is using electric and hybrid batteries to store electricity. A homeowner can bundle electric-car batteries to solar panels to store electricity for their house. A solar or wind farm that generates energy throughout the day can store electricity in the batteries for later consumption.

The car manufacturers are also looking into aftermarket uses of electric batteries as well. Nissan is working with Green Charge Networks to sell a mass-market energy storage system built on Nissan Leaf batteries. General Motors is also pursuing a similar plan where they will use Chevy Volt batteries to help power the General Motors Enterprise Data Center. The batteries will work in conjunction with the wind turbines and solar array while also providing a source of back-up power is need be.

As hybrid vehicles become more prevalent it’s going to become more important to find safe and environmentally friendly ways of disposing of the car batteries. Given that the average life of an electric car battery is about ten years, we’re about ten years away from needing solutions to dispose of one million car batteries with millions more to come.

Paul Nadjarian is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Mojo Motors. His extensive background in the automotive industry includes running the Parts & Accessories category at eBay Motors, the Internet lead management group at Ford Motor Co., and co-founding GreenLeaf Auto, an auto-recycling venture within Ford. Mojo Motors features vehicles for all types of buyers, whether they are looking for a Dodge Ram 1500 in New York or a Chevrolet Impala in San Francisco.

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About the Author

Jeff McIntire-Strasburg is the founder and editor of sustainablog. You can keep up with all of his writing at Facebook, and at


    A lot of folks are “upcycling” discarded 1st gen NiMH batteries, turns out Prius single modules go for quite a good price online because they can be used to get a reduced cost replacement pack under warranty. Also lead acids especially from forklift modules can indeed be sorted, the good ones saved and rebuild into working solar setups.

  • Turboblocke

    Why are car batteries considered worn when they still have 70/80% capacity left?

    And when talking about the efficiency of EVs don’t forget the benefits of regenerative braking.

    • neroden

      With 80% capacity, a Model S is still totally usable for all purposes. Even more so when there are more charging stations out there…

    • Calamity_Jean

      “Why are car batteries considered worn when they still have 70/80% capacity left? “

      Increased range anxiety. If the car’s batteries when new will only take it for 83 miles then if the battery is down to 80% it only has a range of 66 miles.

      • Bob_Wallace

        I doubt that 80% will be the replacement threshold once we move into 200+ mile range EVs. A drop from 240 miles to 192 will mean that a 10-12 year old car will still be highly usable.

        People who need the higher range will likely buy a new car which should have even more range and sell their “80%” EV on to someone who can live with a lower range.

        Even at 100 mile ranges EVs are going to be useful for many who need cheap transportation rather than the ability to drive across the continent.

        I’m not sure we’ll see batteries being replaced in the future.

        • Calamity_Jean

          “I’m not sure we’ll see batteries being replaced in the future.”

          You’re probably right, once EVs get up to more miles per charge. When longer-range cars are scrapped for other reasons (rust never sleeps), those batteries may find a second career as stationary storage.

      • Turboblocke

        Yes, and so what? Most journeys are much less than that. If a normal car is running low on fuel, then you refuel, why is it different for an EV?

        The problem is not that the range is only 66 miles, rather the problem is the lack of charge points. If there was only one filling station within 10 miles, even IC car owners would feel range anxiety. At least with an EV you can always refuel at home.

        • Calamity_Jean

          “…the problem is the lack of charge points.”

          That’s part of it, plus it takes longer to charge a battery from “almost dead” than it does to fill a tank.

          “If there was only one filling station within 10 miles, even IC car owners would feel range anxiety.”

          Absolutely! I suspect that the last few IC cars will be scrapped before they wear out for exactly this reason. Gas stations will go out of business for lack of customers until they are so far apart that most people won’t find it easy to get to one.

          • Matt

            Took a motorcycle trip from Oh to past the rockies. Took back roads thru Kanas and CO. Many of the small towns had only closed gas stations. I came close to running out at one point, then was very careful. So yes, it will happen. That or they will have extra gas strapped on the back of the car, like you see in old films of explorers.

          • Calamity_Jean

            There is already fewer gas stations than there used to be, just from better gas mileage cars and people driving less. Maybe in five years there will be online maps of gas station locations, the way that there are now online maps of public charge points. ICV manufacturers had better start redesigning cars to have bigger gas tanks. EV drivers can point and laugh.

          • Turboblocke

            I actually have an EV, a LEAF. I’ve had it for over two years and done nearly 30,000 miles. When I first got it, there were no public charge points within 40 miles of me. So that rather constrained my trips. Since then the network has expanded greatly and my waistline had gone down. There is a charge point 8 mins walk from my daily destination (it used to be 10 mins). I leave the car there to charge and pick it up two to three hours later. It actually is more fully charged when I get home than when I left.. and the charging is free. 🙂

          • Calamity_Jean

            That’s pretty cool. I’m looking eagerly forward to getting an EV soon, probably early next year after my father’s estate gets settled. What year is your Leaf? I’m thinking of trying for a used one coming off lease to save money.

          • Turboblocke

            I got it in 2013. It’s one of the last of the first model. In France they were doing a special offer to get rid of them before the newer version was introduced.

            I went for a three year lease, thinking that there would be more choice after the lease finished. So I’m impatiant to see what’s going to be available next spring.

          • Alvin(((((((((((((((

            If you wait until early 2017, the Tesla Model 3 will be available for $35,000 or $27,500 if the electric car investment tax credit is extended beyond 2017. It is projected to have a 200 – 220 mile range. Owning a Tesla also provides access to their fast charging network. In addition, Tesla owners can expect battery upgrades with increased range. The Tesla Roadster was upgraded earlier this year with a 400 mile battery from it predecessor of 220 miles. Tesla will be offering a battery upgrade to the Model S within 1 – 1 1/2 years that will extend the range to 600 miles plus.

          • Calamity_Jean

            I don’t think I can wait that long, my husband’s car is going to die any month now and we really need two cars. He’s not sure he likes the idea of an electric, but he LOVES my IC car, so I told him if he doesn’t like the electric I’d give him mine.

  • jeffhre

    The Electric Vehicle Battery “Can And Should Be Recycled”

    Why is that a question when far less valuable vehicle starter batteries are the most recycled items ever made.

  • Coboll

    If a car ends up at a salvage yard, good chance the battery gets removed at some point. Whether it gets recycled would depend on if the salvage yard got some money out of it. Or if there was legislation that made it illegal to dump it in the trash. That legislation would probably be critical at the place where they crush cars.

    • jeffhre

      There is value in them, but the process has not scaled to the point where there is profit in recycling. Reuse for now.

    • Matt

      In US if you sell power tools with recharge batteries, you must provide collection of old batteries. Of course that doesn’t mean Jane Doe turn it in when it don’t work on the job anymore.

  • Coboll

    “That said, NiMH batteries do have their disadvantages including a high rate of self-discharge. Also the cadmium in the batteries is toxic and can’t be put in landfills so they’re seen as worse for the environment.”

    I have seen brief local e-waste campaigns where you can take your electronic goods that they don’t want in landfills to some location and it will be taken for free. There is also a hardware store chain that was taking flourescent bulbs and batteries (and may still be). But there should be more of that if landfills really can’t handle these products. I would bet that the vast majority of NiMH batteries (either replaceable or non-replaceable) get put in the trash just because it is so much more convenient. Most people are even probably unaware that the battery they are throwing out has and icon consisting of two lines drawn over a trash can, signifying that it shouldn’t be thrown in the trash.

  • Ronald Brakels

    Australia didn’t get a mention as a lithium producer. It’s the world’s largest supplier, just beating out Chile last year:

    • eveee

      Better lithium than coal, eh?

      • Ronald Brakels

        With Australia’s lithium output expanding to 18,500 tonnes with a new mine, one year’s production could produce enough electric cars to eliminate oil use equal to Australia’s total annual oil consumption.

        Unless when they write lithium they mean lithium carbonate. That would change things.

      • hooligan6a

        Presently it take coal to charge the lithium. The green nuts don’t want nuclear.

        • eveee

          Nuclear is dying all by itself. Investors don’t want it. Too expensive.

          • neroden

            What he said — but also, it’s already hard to get the *mostly already bankrupt* nuclear companies to clean up after the messes they left at their old plants, which is why we “greenies” don’t want them to build new ones.

            If you ask the nuke companies to post a bond covering the decommissioning costs, they’ll simply refuse to build anything. That shows how uneconomical nuclear power is.

  • Marion Meads

    What would be nice is that the current EV manufacturers would allow you to keep your car batteries as you buy from them a replacement, and then there would be a third party converting company that would convert the old car battery as an additional battery storage module for your solar PV system or for off-peak cheap recharging for use during the peak load times, all from home. I have tremendous uses for my farm if I can add these used batteries in modules.

    • Craig Allen

      I was raised on a remote farm in South Australia. In the 70s. All the old lead acid truck batteries were wired into a battery bank in a small shed beside the house. Next to it was a windmill that had a truck alternator connected to the rotating spindle at the top. It was a standard farm windmill – the kind that usually pumps water. That setup was called a free-light. All the farms had them before powerlines brought mains power. Each battery was no longer capable of starting a truck, but in aggregate they powered the house and the shed. It’s taken us a ridiculously long time to wake up to the benefits of renewable electricity!

      • wattleberry

        Quite! I’m waiting to hear the same thing about other low tech opportunities such as insulation and thermal solar, both of which could reduce the need for fancy elec storage to nominal levels.
        How do we make them sexy?

  • eveee

    But first, the batteries will be used for utility storage. A battery pack can reuse most of the mechanicals and electricals. Only the cells themselves need to be reprocessed and those are in standardized packages, either prismatic or cylindrical.

    I wonder if the secondary use and recycling is taken into account in GHG comparisons. Apparently, it is.

  • wattleberry

    I don’t recall seeing what the life expectancy of batteries is in their second iteration. If, as I anticipate, it is long, we’re going to end up with an immense and growing storage capacity.
    It just gets better.

    • Mike Dill

      Current batteries have an end-of-life issue where there is a buildup of dielectric breakdown products. The current and next generations should resolve most of those issues, but there will still be some residual breakdown products that will reduce the capacity of the batteries.
      Tesla expects to change out their current sets of batteries at between 5 and 10 years due to these issues. At that time, the batteries should have between 50% and 80% of their original capacity, which should make them usable in some other applications.

      Eventually recycling makes sense for almost everything, but we should first ‘use up’ the product.

    • Matthew11

      Mitsubishi currently states the batteries has tested EV batteries and estimates 70% capacity at 10 years and 50% at 15-25 years depending on usage for my 2012 i-Miev. Now most i-Mievs have had a much better curve than other EVs until recently due to better battery balancing. Oringally older Nissan leaf owners saw a nearly 5% loss in range per year where an average i-Miev user saw a 1% drop per year. Nissan recently switched to using the same technology as Mitsubishi for battery management and now includes heating and cooling for the battery under sub optimal temperatures the same as Mitsubishi had been using. Of course, there is always the option of reconditioning the battery pack at end of life rather than replacing it as well that most people ignore though, with improvements to current battery technology, as well as a significant drop in battery prices, it is probably a better deal now to simply replace it and recycle the old one. For my 2012 i-Miev, I could buy a full replacement battery for around $2500 just of the batteries installed and $5000 for batteries and new battery management and faster on board charger for a local battery shop. Compare this with a couple of years ago when the replacement price was nearly $8000 for the batteries alone.

      • wattleberry

        Thanks for your detailed reply and revelation, to me at least, of Mitsubishi’s advanced approach. Just shows all those buyers of the Outlander PHEV know a thing or two.

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