Are hybrid car batteries recycled?
The last three years (2015/2017) have been fundamental for the development of the electric vehicles market: the International Energy Agency observes that the number of EVs on the road exceeded 1 million in 2015, and will soon reach the 2 millions mark in the forthcoming years.
The reduction of the lithium-ion batteries cost has led to a significant increase in sales – now it is possible to purchase an EV with more than 200 miles of range for less than $40.000.
However, this increase also brought to light a new question: what happens to electric cars batteries once they are out of power? Can they be recycled or reused? And how? And what is more convenient?
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What to do with discarded batteries
Bloomberg New Energy Finance founder Michael Liebreich has recently published an interesting report on electric vehicles.
In addition to the sales data analysis, Liebreich also raised the question of the discarded batteries: in 4/5 years they will start to wane, forcing EV owners to decide whether replace them or buy a new car directly.
What to do then with these hybrid car batteries?
There are two possibilities: recycle or reuse them as an energy store, considering that landfilling electric car batteries is illegal in many countries and, in any case, absolutely not economical anyway.
Both options somehow divide public opinion and experts, who are not yet able to give a clear direction on the management of the matter.
The second life use of electric car batteries
In his report, Michael Liebreich supports the possibility of repurposing electric car batteries for stationary energy storage applications.
Once the performance has decreased by about 30%, the battery still retains about 70% of its energy capacity. This means that it can be used again and again, before being definitively recycled.
Analyzing sales data, the Bloomberg’s report expects a total 95 GwH of second life batteries capacity to be available by 2025, of which a third can be reused as stationary energy storage.
More in detail, market experts suggest that this global energy storage capacity will reach exactly 29 GwH between 2024 and 2025.
This second life use of hybrid car batteries is therefore promising both from an environmental and economic point of view.
These reused batteries cost around $49 for usable kilowatt-hours, compared to the price of new energy stations, which is around $300 for k/h.
However, we have to consider that new stationary batteries will be launched at competitive prices, which will make reuse more difficult. But this is not the only limit.
Battery experts notice that they have different degradation trajectories and that this might cause problems in assembling stationary storage, cheaper when the constituent cells are uniform.
This means that the more they vary, more expensive assembly software might be required.
Not surprising that JB Straubel, CTO of Tesla, claims that using the battery waster is not at all convenient for the electric vehicles market.
Recycling hybrid car batteries
Lead-acid and lithium-ion batteries can both be recycled, but it’s not as simple as it sounds.
Nowadays, recycling costs are significant, especially for the small number of facilities where electric car batteries can be recycled (Toxco is one of the few big lead-acid batteries recycler, for example).
However, market experts think that these prices will drop significantly in the coming years, in parallel with the increase in battery sales.
Furthermore, recycling will certainly help the drop of electric cars batteries costs, because it will allow reuse of metals and rare-earth compounds, generally expensive.
As consequence, this will also reduce polluting CO emissions and the release of energy during the production of new materials, thus certainly being advantageous from an environmental and economic point of view.