One of the most pressing issues for electric vehicles is lithium-ion EV batteries. EV battery materials are toxic to the environment, and only a small percentage of EV batteries are recycled. However, in addition to addressing environmental concerns, recycling EV batteries offers two unexpected benefits. This makes electric cars cheaper and helps solve the microchip shortage crisis.
Can you recycle electric vehicle batteries?
Currently, only about 5% of lithium-ion batteries in electric vehicles are recycled. This is very little compared to the 95% rate at which lead acid batteries are recycled. The reason why the recycling rate of EV batteries is so low is that, compared to lead-acid batteries, EV batteries are:
- More complicated
- Varies for each lithium-ion battery
- Considerably larger
- Contains more toxic materials
Additionally, there are not many entities that have the capabilities to safely and effectively recycle EV batteries. However, as reported Axiosthis could change significantly in the years to come. Axios details how companies in the United States “could reuse the critical minerals within to make new batteries, creating a sustainable national supply chain.” As a result, “it could help make electric vehicles more affordable and prevent shortages like the current semiconductor crisis.”
Redwood Materials, Ford and Volvo Lead Electric Vehicle Battery Recycling Program in California
A startup called Redwood Materials has a pilot program in California to recycle electric vehicle batteries in a “safe, sustainable, and cost-effective” way. Ford and Volvo are collaborators in the program. The program is very ambitious and, if successful, could have major ramifications.
Redwood Materials works with dismantlers and dealerships in California, the state with the most electric cars. The company “collects old batteries and then transports them safely to its Nevada facilities for processing.” Ford and Volvo are funding the recycling pilot program, but “Redwood will accept lithium-ion and nickel-metal hydride batteries from all electric and hybrid vehicles.”
Accumulation of old EV batteries won’t be a serious problem for a few years. However, Redwood Materials is taking a proactive approach to resolving the issue. Redwood CEO JB Straubel, who was a co-founder of Tesla, expressed the need to prepare now. In a recent interview with reporters, he said, “I think we’re going to see the numbers really, really increase in two to three years, starting with California, just because that’s the oldest market for electric vehicles. .”
How long do lithium-ion batteries in electric vehicles last?
The warranty for most lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles is eight years or more. However, “early evidence shows that they tend to outlast these guarantees”. Additionally, battery technology for electric vehicles is advancing rapidly, including the development of a “million mile” battery. However, as EV battery range increases, EV car owners may have more incentive to trade in, resulting in more EV batteries accumulating.
Redwood Materials’ EV battery recycling pilot program looks promising. If successful, this bodes well for the environment, while helping to reduce the cost of electric cars, while easing microchip shortages. Additionally, even if not recycled, EV batteries can be reused for energy storage for the power grid.
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