Although rechargeable batteries from electric and hybrid vehicles offer a great opportunity and market for the recycling industry, they are extremely difficult to execute. Currently, only a small amount of these batteries are reclaimed from end-of-life vehicles, but as production and sales of electric vehicles increase, so does the recovery of EV batteries.
Though reprocessing lithium batteries used in manufacturing EVs is risky for the recycling industry, recovering components used to produce lithium-ion batteries and maintaining them on the supply chain is the ultimate goal. A single battery is six feet long and weighs 1,000 pounds, which makes decommissioning more complex. To detach the battery, it must be separated from the vehicle before the framework is lifted off it. Then, the battery needs to be stored cautiously.
“Processing an EV battery for reuse is not much different from processing an internal combustion engine vehicle, though there are differences,” said Derick Corbett, senior vice president of external affairs at Pull-A-Part. “In addition to discharging the battery and lifting the vehicle off the battery pack, storage also presents a challenge; you can’t just throw the battery next to the rest of the cars because it could explode.”
Shipping also presents a challenge. Since these batteries are considered hazardous, they cost a little more to be shipped. Once the valuable parts and components have been recovered and recycled, the cars are transferred to an auto shredder.
Lithium-ion and nickel-metal-hydride batteries have a multipurpose, which makes them unique from other car parts. Most batteries aren’t resold as auto parts but as energy accumulator components. There is an entire market for these materials within the recycling enterprise, though there may be electric vehicles that do not have any value and end up being scrapped.
Bobby Triesch, vice president and regional manager for SA Recycling, said he identifies the potential for automotive manufacturers to design with the intent of recycling because of the scarcity of the components used in these batteries. “There really is a good chance because it’s in their self-interest to design the power systems and batteries for being able to be as cost-effectively and efficiently recycled as possible,” Triesch said.
Recycling EV batteries provides critical environmental benefits, is necessary for maintaining a circular EV economy, and provides significant profit potential for those undertaking the task.