Rapid growth in the market for electric vehicles is imperative, to meet global targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, to improve air quality in urban centers and to meet the needs of consumers, with whom electric vehicles are increasingly popular. However, growing numbers of electric vehicles present a serious waste-management challenge for recyclers at end-of-life. Nevertheless, spent batteries may also present an opportunity as manufacturers require access to strategic elements and critical materials for key components in electric-vehicle manufacture: recycled lithium-ion batteries from electric vehicles could provide a valuable secondary source of materials. Here we outline and evaluate the current range of approaches to electric-vehicle lithium-ion battery recycling and re-use and highlight areas for future progress.
The electric-vehicle revolution, driven by the imperatives to decarbonize personal transportation in order to meet global targets for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and improve air quality in urban centers, is set to change the automotive industry radically. In 2017, sales of electric vehicles exceeded one million cars per year worldwide for the first time. Making conservative assumptions of an average battery pack weight of 250 kg and volume of half a cubic meter, the resultant pack wastes would comprise around 250,000 tonnes and half a million cubic meters of unprocessed pack waste, when these vehicles reach the end of their lives. Although re-use and current recycling processes can divert some of these wastes from landfills, the cumulative burden of electric-vehicle waste is substantial given the growth trajectory of the electric-vehicle market. This waste presents a number of serious challenges of scale; in terms of storing batteries before repurposing or final disposal, in the manual testing and dismantling processes required for either, and in the chemical separation processes that recycling entails.
Recycling electric-vehicle batteries at end-of-life is essential for many reasons.
Energsoft supports enterprises across industries with predictive battery analytics software. With continued global growth of electric vehicles (EV), a new opportunity for the power sector is emerging: stationary storage powered by used EV batteries, which could exceed 200 gigawatt-hours by 2030.
The shift of electric vehicles into mainstream use has already disrupted the automotive value chain in significant ways and is now on the verge of disrupting the energy-storage value chain as well. The need to dispose of millions of EV batteries in the future has already led to the emergence of new recycling and reuse industries, creating new value pools with new potential to harness and integrate renewable power into our grids. Energsoft hyper cloud software platform, which gives data management, advanced analytics, and visualization solutions to automakers, consumer electronics, and energy storage companies that utilize batteries to power their products.
The company’s real-time analytics platform provides actionable insights that measurably reduce product development time, create more robust products, and mitigate product risk. While these industries face the stark challenge of being on the cutting edge of market creation, corporations and their regulatory bodies have the power to take action to position themselves to capture the value that second-life batteries promise. They just need to look ahead. Precise predictions of battery conditions and aging significantly optimize battery development and use. Exact determination of current condition also enables certification of batteries for reuse and 2nd life.
As the cost of batteries continues to decline rapidly, using energy storage to smooth load profiles will become increasingly attractive. Other applications include public fast chargers, depot chargers for electric buses and trucks, and residential settings where more EV owners combine rooftop solar panels and home storage.
The shift of electric vehicles into mainstream use has already disrupted the automotive value chain in significant ways and is now on the verge of disrupting the energy-storage value chain as well. The need to dispose of millions of EV batteries in the future has already led to the emergence of new recycling and reuse industries, creating new value pools with new potential to harness and integrate renewable power into our grids.
EV growth is not likely to cause large increases in power demand through 2030; instead, it potentially adds about 1 percent to the total and requires about five extra gigawatts (GW) of generation capacity. That amount could grow to roughly 4 percent by 2050, requiring an additional capacity of about 20 GW. Almost all this new-build capacity will likely involve renewables, including wind and solar power, with some gas-powered generation.
Battery OEMs can intelligently select their end-of-life management pathway (that is, determining whether there is sufficient demand from applications suitable to remanufactured batteries or whether recycling would be preferable). As demand for consumer products – such as electric vehicles, cell phones, and tablets – rises, the recovery and reuse of critical materials from spent and discarded lithium-ion batteries will be an essential component of any strategy to reduce product costs and reliance on foreign sources.
In the absence of directive regulation outlining whether recycling or reuse is the path required to avoid mass disposal of batteries, the stakeholders involved—including battery OEMs, second-life companies, automotive OEMs, and utilities—have an opportunity to shape the ecosystem. Not only can they identify the value-maximizing path between recycling and reuse, but they can also develop new business models to fully capture the value at hand
Battery-ownership models may evolve as well. Today, automotive OEMs and battery OEMs are comfortable relinquishing battery ownership to car owners. However, as second-life markets stabilize, owning the battery system will become more attractive due to the system’s confirmed residual value, which automakers and battery makers will not want to give away. Accordingly, we may see a rise in EV-battery leasing such that the automotive OEM or battery OEM can maintain ownership of the battery’s second revenue stream.
Cleantech companies are expanding their products and services to broader industry segments than ever before. They are becoming players in the most important industries in the world, including energy, food, manufacturing, and transportation. As population increases, cleantech companies are working toward addressing increasing power demands by deriving power from renewable sources, creating energy efficiencies, and addressing the scarcity of natural resources. With the growing demand for sustainability, how do cleantech companies balance innovation and growth with sound risk management to address the associated risks?
Due to the rapid rise of EVs in recent years and even faster expected growth over the next ten years in some scenarios, the second-life-battery supply for stationary applications could exceed 200 gigawatt-hours per year by 2030. This volume will exceed the demand for lithium-ion utility-scale storage for low- and high-cycle applications combined which by 2030 will constitute a market with a global value north of $30 billion.
However, to unlock this new pool of battery supply, several challenges in repurposing EV batteries must be overcome.
The first is a large number of battery-pack designs on the market that vary in size, electrode chemistry, and format (cylindrical, prismatic, and pouch). Each battery is designed by the battery manufacturer and automotive OEM to be best suited to a given EV model, which increases refurbishing complexity due to a lack of standardization and fragmentation of volume. Up to 250 new EV models will exist by 2025, featuring batteries from more than 15 manufacturers.
The use of Li-ion batteries is crucial in the future to deal with increased vehicle electrification and automatization. As the key to using onboard Li-ion batteries, the client has been engaged in the development of battery degradation diagnosis, especially technology to rapidly measure the capacity and internal resistance of a battery. Unfortunately, no promising solutions have yet been found. Since Li-ion batteries grow popular in various industries, and approaches to degradation diagnosis technology are widely studied, the client hence decided to seek technology proposals to accelerate research and development in-house. To gather merely one ton of lithium requires the mining of 250 tons of the mineral ore spodumene or 750 tons of mineral-rich brine. Therefore extracting lithium from car batteries (since estimates suggest that we only need 256 used EV batteries to produce 1 ton of lithium) can avoid this water-intensive carbon-intensive method of production. In 2017, the worldwide sales of electric cars exceeded 1 million units for the first time. Market research group Deloitte reported that this figure doubled during 2018, and is close to doubling again, from 2 million to 4 million by the end of 2020. Those are big secondary resources for minerals, which could negate the need for mining many additional tons in order to power the world we love.
Battery packs also pose a challenge at the end of their life. Anyone looking to enter the EV market needs to consider the mandated costs of disposing of, reusing or recycling batteries at the end of their life. While some organizations will be able to absorb the costs, the majority of manufacturers will have to consider creating further partnerships to give battery packs a second life. A secondary life for an EV battery could include industrial on/off-grid energy storage or grid services, domestic energy storage or re-manufacturing.
Recycling electric-vehicle batteries at end-of-life are essential for many reasons. At present there is little hope that profitable processes will be found for all types of current and future types of electric-vehicle LIBs without substantial successful research and development, so the imperative to recycle will derive primarily from the desire to avoid landfill and to secure the supply of strategic elements. The environmental and economic advantages of second-use and the low volume of electric-vehicle batteries currently available for recycling could stifle the development of the recycling industry in some places. In many nations, the elements and materials contained in the batteries are not available, and access to resources is crucial in ensuring a stable supply chain. Electric vehicles may prove to be a valuable secondary resource for critical materials. Careful husbandry of the resources consumed by electric-vehicle battery manufacturing—and recycling—surely hold the key to the sustainability of the future automotive industry.
Pyrometallurgical routes, in particular, suffer from high capital costs, and if full recyclability of LIBs is to be achieved, alternative methods are urgently required, rather than seeking to recycle only the most economically valuable components.
The design of current battery packs is not optimized for easy disassembly. Use of adhesives, bonding methods and fixtures do not lend themselves to easy deconstruction either by hand or machine. All reported current commercial physical cell-breaking processes employ shredding or milling with subsequent sorting of the component materials. This makes the separation of the components more difficult than if they were presorted and considerably reduces the economic value of waste material streams. Many of the challenges this presents to remanufacture, re-use and recycling could be addressed if considered early in the design process.