Most of the world’s electric vehicles are powered by batteries made primarily from a mineral known as lithium and others such as nickel, cobalt, and manganese. While these batteries are part of a greener world, can they be recycled when they die?
The lithium-ion batteries which power electric vehicles can be recycled, but it’s not an easy task and requires a lot of work. Two effective methods exist thus far, breaking down the battery via burning or acid, which in turn gives you access to the minerals within.
This article will discuss whether or not you can recycle lithium-ion batteries and how it’s done. So keep reading! We have everything you need to know about the process behind recycling Lithium batteries.
What Kind Of Battery Powers An EV?
Most electric vehicles available on the market today are powered by lithium-ion batteries. While a lithium-ion battery may seem simple in nature, numerous kinds of battery technology exist, and none are created equal.
All electric vehicle batteries will contain lithium, however, what percentage of this and other minerals, such as cobalt, manganese, and nickel, is unknown as it’s a trade secret.
Electric vehicle batteries are made of a pack that holds multiple modules, each of which is composed of smaller cells. Inside each cell, lithium atoms will move through a utensil known as an electrolyte between an anode of graphite and a cathode sheet made from metal oxide.
Typically these lithium-ion batteries will have a lifespan of around 12 to 20 years, but because the industry is still relatively young, we’re unsure just how long they could potentially last. In some cases, scientists believe that the batteries will outlive the car they are in.
A significant idea within the EV world is that these lithium-ion batteries should be given a second life as a form of industrial or residential form of energy. Then after they have served this purpose, they should be disassembled and stripped for their materials. But just how easy is it to recycle an EV battery?
Can You Recycle Lithium Ion Batteries?
When it comes to recycling the batteries from electric vehicles, it’s much more complex than your average lithium battery. Lithium-ion batteries are what’s found within EVs, and they can be dangerous if they are recycled incorrectly, as they are toxic and highly flammable.
The batteries within electric vehicles are often defined by the metals contained within the cathode. There are three major kinds; iron-phosphate, cobalt-nickel, and nickel-manganese-cobalt.
As electric batteries come in many shapes and sizes, dismembering them to recycle them is a lengthy and tedious process. Thus, in some cases, it’s actually cheaper for manufacturers to buy new materials.
When an electric battery is broken down and recycled, recyclers are looking for metals in the cathode, such as nickel and cobalt, which can fetch a reasonable price on the market. While lithium can also be recycled, it often ends up in a landfill as it’s so cheap to replace.
When it comes down to what percentage of lithium-ion batteries get recycled, it depends on your manufacturer’s recycling company and its capacity to recycle toxic materials. Tesla assures us that 100% of its lithium-ion batteries are recycled, leaving nothing to landfill.
How Are Lithium Ion Batteries Recycled?
Recycling a lithium-ion battery is a lengthy and challenging process which is why large manufacturers do it. The EV batteries are extremely heavy, making their transportation to recycling centers a difficult task.
They begin by breaking apart the extremely strong glue to access the individual cells or modules. The cells will then be dissolved in a pool of acid, leaving behind a slurry of materials all mixed together.
Alternatively, the individual cells can be set alight, and you’ll be left with the charred remains of the rare materials that make up the battery. Using acid poses a high health risk, whereas burning the batteries requires a large amount of energy.
Other alternatives to these two hazardous methods, such as water, are still in their early development stage and may never work as well as the latter two methods.
Why It’s Hard To Recycle Electric Car Batteries
As the electric battery recycling industry is still in its early days, the methods are not yet at the level of sophistication required to harvest enough material from the battery to reduce mining. Unfortunately, it’s cheaper to mine more materials than it is to utilize the recycled ones from old batteries.
The process of mining cheap lithium from foreign countries gives companies more money and time to invest in battery technology. However, this then leads to the problem that if cheap lithium-ion batteries are created, they will ultimately end up in a landfill.
Because of factors including a high workload, extra cost, and whether or not the metals can be reused, unfortunately, the recycling of lithium batteries is not desirable. Unless this process becomes both economical and can reduce our dependence on new lithium, this will be a significant problem in a world full of electric vehicles.
On top of this, eventually, there will be a shortage of metals used in lithium-ion batteries. Thus, if we can invent a way to obtain a high yield when recycling these batteries, it will help promote a greener process.
While electric vehicles are promoted as environmentally friendly and great alternatives to fossil fuel-powered cars, they come with their environmental impacts caused by the mining and manufacturing of lithium.
Its been shown that during the manufacturing process of the batteries, humans may be exposed to toxic chemicals. On top of this, lithium mining is becoming an ecosystem pollution problem.
Child labor has also become a problem recently, especially in places such as the Democratic Republic of Congo. Here, lithium is mined by a large number of children and poorly paid workers and is then sold to a middleman. From here, it is sold to companies in the United States and Europe.
So, while lithium-ion batteries from electric vehicles can indeed be recycled, it’s not a cheap nor an easy process. There are still numerous areas of the process that can be improved upon before we can officially say that we get a sufficient amount of material from these recycled batteries and that none of them end up in landfill.