Electric vehicles become immovable objects without their batteries. However, these batteries do not last forever because they gradually lose capacity and degrade, until they eventually have to be replaced. As an environmentally conscious EV user, you may ask what happens to an EV battery after removing it from an electric car. This is because the batteries contain heavy metals and toxic chemicals that can pollute the environment if not properly disposed of.
One idea of dealing with old EV batteries is recycling them. However, are EV batteries recyclable? The answer, fortunately, is yes.
Modern electric vehicles use lithium-ion batteries, similar to the batteries in smartphones and laptops. However, due to the nature of their operation, they are designed to last for much longer and typically function for more than a decade.
By the time an EV battery loses 20% of its original capacity, it is no longer fit for use in automobiles. It can enjoy a second life as part of an energy system, backing up the grid and storing power for future use.
The EV industry is relatively young, and most EV batteries are still working. However, by 2040, there could be about 200,000 metric tons of old lithium-ion batteries to deal with.
Dumping old batteries into landfills or stacking them somewhere indefinitely, is dangerous because batteries are inflammable and thus present a huge hazard. However, extracting the materials that make up the battery to be reused is good for the environment because mining these materials in the first place causes tremendous harm and pollution to the environment.
Recycling EV batteries focuses on recovering the more valuable materials like cobalt and nickel since lithium and graphite are abundant in nature. Other valuable products from old batteries include extracting the anode and cathode intact, instead of breaking them down into their components.
Battery recycling starts with dismantling the pack to get access to the cells. The recovered cells are either burned or dissolved in acid to produce a lump of charred materials or a slurry. The remaining components are then separated into individual parts for reuse or recycling.
While it is possible to recycle EV batteries, there are challenges with the process. Battery makers use different methods and materials to arrange and secure the cells in the battery packs, meaning there is no universal extracting method. Also, burning the cells requires enormous amounts of energy, while dissolving them in acid could pose a health challenge.
However, EV recyclers are researching more efficient methods to recover materials from the batteries. Pay attention to this space because as a necessity, there will be a lot of innovations towards battery recycling in the coming years.
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