How to effectively dispose of EVs and battery systems is a growing concern.
In Europe, there is a movement that is looking to push the envelope, not only in terms of electrified automotive technology but how the concept of recycling fits into each stage of the vehicle life cycle. In particular an interview with Jean-Denis Curt, Recycling & Circular Economy Unit Manager at Renault, piqued my curiosity.
Beyond vehicle use
In the interview Mr. Curt pointed out that being “environmentally” friendly goes beyond the car having an electrified powertrain. He noted that the materials used in manufacturing the vehicle also have a significant impact on carbon footprint, one reason why Renault vehicles in Europe already use around 36 percent recycled materials in their construction and why the new ZOE electric car will feature 100 percent visible recycled plastics and seat fabrics partly made from waste safety belts. He also noted that an ongoing priority is to find ways to recycle cobalt and nickel used in vehicle battery systems, especially in view of the fact that regions of the world where Cobalt resources are abundant, namely central Africa, are often impacted by political instability.
Here in North America, concerns about recycling hybrids, electric vehicles and what to do with the battery systems are growing. We’re starting to see these vehicles enter our recycling yards in larger numbers. Many of those vehicles are first-generation Toyota Prius hybrids that use nickel-metal hydride batteries. For recyclers there is value in the metal content in these battery systems; but the question is, how can they profit from it?
EV disposal seminars
To help answer those questions and provide additional information on recycling these kinds of vehicles, including safety requirements, ARC brought over Andy Latham from Salvage Wire in the UK to conduct seminars for our members, and the training sessions quickly sold out. Live demonstrations on sample vehicles were also included to give participants a real understanding of what’s involved when you dismantle a hybrid or electric vehicle.
Even when a battery is no longer suitable for use in an automobile, it can still have tremendous value for energy storage, whether it’s used to gather power from a wind turbine or used in battery storage banks. Also, if it has reached the end of its useful life, how do we ensure the precious raw materials can be extracted and re-used? These are all questions that will become more prominent in the next few years as will a growing need for recycling these batteries properly.
And as more hybrid and electric vehicles hit the roads, where to dispose of and process these batteries could become an issue. At present, there are only three facilities in North America that are able to actually recycle the batteries, and the current infrastructure simply won’t be able to support the volume required in the coming years if no action is taken.
Creating a suitable solution in processing or disposing of used electric vehicle batteries requires collaboration from different sectors, including auto recyclers, vehicle OEMs and the scrap industry.
If a solution isn’t reached, we could be facing a crisis within the next five to 10 years where we have too many electric vehicles and battery systems to recycle, but not enough sources willing to take them. Already, we have cases where some scrap operations are putting moratoriums on buying end-of-life EVs because they aren’t sure how to decommission them safely or economically. And if vehicles are being dumped or shredded with the batteries still in them because they can’t be processed properly, it creates a major environmental hazard. We all have a responsibility to take action, both for the benefit of our collective industries and also the greater environment.