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Connected Driving 5 min read

The truth about EV battery recycling

An electric vehicle connected to a chargepoint.

Despite electric vehicles promising us a cleaner future, the industry's struggle to recycle batteries is proving to be a significant challenge.

Electric vehicles (EVs) are more popular than ever. The EU forecasts that by 2020, over 30 million of them will be on European roads. And as that number increases, so will the volume of batteries reaching the end of their life span.

But their batteries pose a unique problem. Unlike a traditional car engine that can be rebuilt, an EV battery will inevitably wear out. Depending on specific usage and brand, they need to be replaced every ten years.

A woman charging her electric vehicle at a charging station.

Why recycling is the key to sustainability

Manufacturing EV batteries is an energy-intensive process that produces greenhouse gas emissions. And if they're not disposed of carefully, this could negate any positive environmental impact of driving an electric vehicle.

EV batteries also contain toxic materials such as lithium, cobalt and nickel. If left in landfills they can leak into the soil and groundwater, posing serious environmental hazards. But if recycled, these toxic materials can be reused to manufacture new batteries, which also saves us from having to mine for new ones.

EV batteries are not that easy to recycle

Despite best efforts, in the last decade the rates of recycling EV batteries have been low. That's because – although there is a clear need – the current state of EV battery recycling is far from ideal. It involves several challenges, including their complex design, varying chemistries and the lack of standardized recycling processes.

The main barrier is that the current recycling process is complicated and costly. Geographical differences in recycling infrastructure complicate logistics can make the whole process inefficient and expensive. Disassembling batteries requires specialized facilities and skilled labor, raising costs. And the fluctuating prices of recycled materials often make mining new ones more financially appealing.

Without strong economic incentives or regulations to support recycling, the industry finds it hard to improve sustainable battery disposal and reuse.

A view of a long, straight road in the desert, with an electric vehicle driving in the distance.

How businesses are tackling the issue

Several companies and organizations are working hard to address these challenges and improve the recycling rates of EV batteries. For instance, Nissan launched its first EV, the LEAF, in 2010 and began preparing for the battery's end-of-life cycle shortly after. Nissan partnered with Sumitomo Corporation to establish 4R Energy Corp., specializing in repurposing lithium-ion batteries.

4R Energy uses innovative technology to examine a pack of 48 EV modules at once, reducing assessment time from two weeks to one day. This partnership aims to ensure each EV battery reaches its full potential through it's motto of "Reuse, Resell, Refabricate and Recycle". Additionally, Volkswagen has a recycling plant in Salzgitter, Germany, planning to recycle up to 3,600 battery systems per year.

Another promising approach to making EV batteries more sustainable is to give them a second life. Once an EV battery is no longer suitable for use in vehicles, it can still be repurposed for other applications. For example, Betteries, a company in Berlin, uses EV batteries to create new energy sources, producing up to ten second-life 'betteries' from one regular EV battery. These repurposed batteries can be used in smaller units like forklifts or clean energy storage systems.

The next step in improving EV battery recycling involves investment and collaboration between governments and industry stakeholders. Curtiss, a researcher at the Argonne National Laboratory, suggests that with adequate funding, the development of new technologies like lithium-air batteries could revolutionize the EV industry. These batteries promise a longer range and lighter weight, which could drastically change how we approach EV battery recycling in the future.

Man EV Charger Charging Station Charge Point Chargepoint

Moving toward a more sustainable future

The journey to achieving effective EV battery recycling is fraught with challenges, but it is essential for the sustainability of the electric vehicle industry and the environment. Through innovative technologies, second-life applications, and collaborative efforts, significant strides can be made to improve recycling rates and reduce the environmental impact of EV batteries.

Understanding and addressing the complexities of EV battery recycling is crucial for moving toward a greener future. By investing in research and development, supporting innovative recycling methods and fostering industry collaboration, we can ensure that the green promise of electric vehicles is fully realized.

Caroline Christie

Caroline Christie


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