State of the EV Auto Recycling Sector in Canada

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Properly recycling EVs in the coming years requires a better understanding of correct disposal practices. PHOTO Plug-In America
Webinar session discussed the need for greater awareness, training, and safety practices.

Currently, Canada’s federal government is on a mission to make new vehicle sales 100% electric by 2035.

Whether this will be achieved or not is very much open to debate. What isn’t however; is the increasing number of hybrids (and particularly battery electric vehicles) set to hit our roads during this decade.

And with more of these types of vehicles in circulation, more will need to be retired, whether it’s being written off as a result of collisions or retired due to reaching the end of their useful lives.

For auto recyclers, dismantling and disposing of EVs is going to be a more common part of their overall business operations, though knowledge and experience on how to do this effectively and safely remain a big challenge.

As part of a Live Webinar entitled Canadian EV/Hybrid Recycling, presented by the Automotive Recyclers of Canada (ARC) and Auto Recycling World, Steve Fletcher, Managing Director of ARC discussed the State of the Auto Recycling Sector in Canada and looked at ways that recyclers can prepare for the growing number of EVs expected to reach an end-of-life status.

Total loss vehicles

Currently, around 1.6 million end-of-life vehicles are processed in Canada each year and Fletcher noted that it’s important to note that total-loss newer vehicles represent a significant part of that amount.

For total loss vehicles, prices on the open market can fetch $15,000 or more, and each car or truck that is acquired by ARC member recyclers, are de-polluted and stripped of all useful parts for sale or remanufacture or recycling before the hulks are disposed of to the traditional scrap industry.

Fletcher explained that in most cases, automotive recyclers are involved both in the dismantling and scrap process and when it comes to electrified vehicles such as hybrids and EVs, this can have additional complications.

While hybrids still feature internal combustion engine powertrains which can be removed and resold, along with high-value precious metal items such as catalytic converters, battery-electric EVs represent an entirely different proposition for most auto recyclers.

Although battery electric vehicles contain fewer parts, their drivetrains are expected to last significantly longer than typical ICE vehicles, perhaps even longer than the vehicle itself.

Also, given that EV electric motors contain high-value magnets, Fletcher explained that they cannot be shredded in the same way as a typical ICE engine.

Not only are the magnets themselves highly prized for re-use and contain rare earth metals that are essential to mass BEV production, but these magnets also tend to gum up recycling shredders.

There’s also the question of what to do with the battery system in an end-of-life BEV vehicle.

Typical battery packs found in current electric vehicles are large, heavy, and in the case of lithium-ion units, extremely dangerous if not handled correctly.

Not only do they operate on high voltage, but are temperature sensitive and if they catch fire, often reignite, making it difficult to extinguish the flames.

Recovery and reuse

Nevertheless, these batteries are valuable and will likely become more so in the coming years.

Yet how they can be recovered and reused, as well as understanding what’s required to do this effectively, is a key consideration for the recycling industry at this time.

Fletcher noted that people are looking at ways in which to directly reuse these batteries, such as using them as stationary storage devices for powering homes and cottages as well as exploring the options for remanufacturing battery packs such as replacing cells and looking at testing and state-of-health monitoring.

Although Fletcher said that auto recyclers aren’t generally looking at these kinds of strategies right now, there is a lot of research being done to see what is viable and what isn’t when it comes to battery pack recycling and reuse.

Nevertheless, there is a great need in the industry for training regarding the safety and storage of battery systems from electric vehicles, as well as logistical considerations.

For those recyclers that do understand battery electric vehicles and what’s required to process them, every Chevrolet Bolt, Volt and Nissan LEAF that reaches end of life status is in high demand and among ARC members are generating good returns.

On the flip side, however, many recyclers still don’t understand battery electrics and are even afraid because they don’t have the knowledge and training to handle and dispose of these vehicles properly.

That’s why, as Fletcher explained, it’s critical to have more information out there, particularly as it relates to servicing, maintenance, and end-of-life management of electric vehicles since most of the current focus is on manufacturing and selling.

Ultimately there needs to be a structure in place that allows recyclers to extract maximum value from end-of-life EVs, so they don’t end up dumped on the roadside or in fields.

“The industry wants to be able to manage these vehicles responsibly,” said Fletcher.

“We’re trying to pull all these different pieces together to create a subject that auto recyclers will want to embrace and can use to build their businesses for the future.”

Ultimately, he said, the goal is to ensure that when these vehicles come off the road, they go into facilities that can handle them properly and safely.


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