Even before EVs, I was keen to recycle batteries. ALDI stores do a great service with recycling bins. I just have to remember to take the dead ones with me shopping. Everyone is now accustomed to battery-powered devices, but since I have bought a Tesla, the questions I get seem to focus on EVs as a bad thing because of their batteries. It wasn’t a huge issue before and we have lived with batteries for a long time, even rechargeable ones. Why does it seem like a problem now?
One thing that probably needs to be explained to people: Please don’t confuse the lead-acid battery in a petrol or diesel car with the lithium-ion battery in an electric car. If you get 3 years out of a petrol car battery, you are doing well. EV batteries are designed to last the lifetime of the car.
I have rechargeable batteries in my phone, my iPad, my laptop, and my Wii, not just my car. When the appliance dies, what do you do with the batteries? Do they go to the landfill? Doesn’t seem to be much of a 360 degree business plan for them, does it? I give mine to my computer tech and he finds a home for them.
Perhaps this is why my questioners are so concerned for the planet? Maybe it isn’t just FUD. So, where is lithium battery heaven?
It might be worth starting with where the non-viable car battery comes from. Some will come from wrecks, some from prototype builds, and some from early models that get replaced because there is now a much better product (as in the case of the earlier Nissan Leaf).
Most current EV manufacturers give an 8 year warranty on the battery. That should be a good indication of how long it will last. We won’t have definitive data until they’ve been around for a couple of decades. In my last petrol car, the engine was still running at 240,000 km, but I had to replace the transmission (cost $3500 + the tow down the mountain).
What happens to the battery depends on what the problem is. Most car batteries are made up of a packs of cells. The problem might just be a few bad cells, in which case they can be replaced and the battery reused. It might be degradation – some batteries lose 3% per year (Tesla claims 1% for theirs). These can be repurposed as stationary batteries. Or they can be shredded and more than 90% of the materials can be recovered. Maybe closer to 100% of the materials.
J.B. Straubel, cofounder and previously longtime CTO at Tesla, is now CEO of battery recycler Redwood Material. He says we may have a lithium mine in the drawer where we throw the dead phone, iPad, etc. Most if not all EV manufacturers in North America and Europe are committed to recycling their batteries. Many of them (including Tesla) are building in-house recycling systems. These materials are not cheap, and it makes good economic sense to retrieve as much as of the material as possible.