Can EV Batteries Be Reused?

Can EV Batteries Be Reused?

Electric vehicles are more eco-friendly while driving than any other vehicles. The questionable aspects of these cars involves the EV batteries.

Can these batteries be reused or will more materials need to be mined to continue the process of building cars? Many of these batteries use rare materials that are limited in what we find in the Earth. That could be a serious problem unless the materials are recyclable. This is something that many automakers are working toward. If a closed loop process is found, that would make building EVs a bit more eco-friendly than what we currently see.

Rather than Reuse, Recycle

There is a difference between reusing and recycling materials. When items are reused, they typically are kept intact but ways to use them that might not be their original intended purpose are found. Think about some of the DIY projects you see online with people repurposing old things into new ones. Recycling typically involves breaking items down to their raw materials to put them back in the production process. Some materials, such as plastics, can only be recycled so many times while others can be broken down hundreds of times.

Battery Materials at a Premium

In an effort toward sustainability, VW aims to build an industry-first program to allow the EV batteries to be broken down to reenter the production process. This project could make a huge difference in the amount of materials available to the company. If successful, VW could lead the way in ensuring mined materials don’t have to be mined multiple times for the same purpose. A closed loop of continuous battery materials from old batteries to create new ones would be an ideal solution to what already challenges our planet and the environment.

Introducing Project HVBatCycle

The process being used in this new project will keep the cathode materials, graphite, and electrolyte, in a closed material cycle permanently. Several companies and universities are working with VW on this project which will take three years to develop. This allows a holistic approach to recycling the batteries and the materials, including production rejects that can be broken down instead of discarded. The ideal situation allow the supply of raw materials to be continuous in this closed loop environment. Some loss is expected, but the gains are enormous considering there isn’t a program like list currently in place.

Is this Process Cost Effective?

Initially, this new idea seems to be incredible. The ability to recycle raw materials from EV batteries could save the planet, but it has to be cost effective compared to current programs and mining new materials. Currently, VW has a process to recycle about 3600 batteries systems a year at their Germany facility in Salzgitter. This process reuses more than 90% of the battery components, but this new closed loop process will be more demanding and allow for even more use of the materials. The goal is to lower the energy requirements to recycle these materials compared to sourcing fresh raw materials.

Breaking Down the Batteries

The process to break down these batteries is under development. Currently, the idea is to create a largely automated process of used EV batteries down to the base item. The cell level can be reached without losing any materials and the active ingredients can be recovered including the electrolyte and graphite needed for the next round of batteries. Without getting too technical, the idea is to break the batteries down as far as possible to build new batteries from those materials, rather than simply reusing what’s already built.

The Unknown Aspects of this Process

With development of this new recycling process underway, one o the goals is to find out what the best method is to build these new battery cells. Does it make sense to separate the metal compounds or is that unnecessary? Can the graphite and electrolyte be reused or is that something that isn’t possible? Will the batteries made from recycled materials meet the standards of batteries from newly mined materials? These questions will eventually have answers but not until the discovery process is completed. Until then, the current recycling process is what VW has to offer.

Can the Closed Loop be Shared?

Once answers to the previous questions are found the next question is whether or not this process can be decentralized? The more places where batteries can be broken down and recycled in this manner, the better. Its not cost effective for automakers to ship their batteries all over the globe for recycling, but if this is necessary, it could be worth the effort. If the process can be offered to various locations, and its effective, this could add to the efficiency and eco-friendly qualities of the electric vehicles we drive now and in the future.

More EVs More Opportunities to Learn

Because electric vehicles are still relatively new, its hard to know whether or not EV batteries will be effectively recycled in this manner. Until now, EV sales only made up a very small portion of all automotive sales in many markets. As more of these older EVs are retired, a better opportunity to understand what’s needed to recycle and reused the materials from the batteries can be discovered. This will hopefully lead to the desired closed loop process of building vehicles. Will new models in the future be nothing more than a recreation of the materials once used for a previous vehicle? Possibly.

What Does this Process Mean for You?

Let’s think several years into the future. If VW and its partners figure out how to recycle old EV batteries using this new process, you could benefit. If you’re the final owner of an EV, the automaker might offer a payment to you for returning the vehicle to them. This payment might be a down payment on your next vehicle, but it could help. Right now, if you return a car battery to an auto parts store, you receive a Core Charge which is typically $5.00 off what you’re buying, usually a new battery. The same might be true of future EVs.

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