As electric vehicles become more popular, the issue of what to do with their batteries at the end of their useful life is gaining importance. Electric vehicle battery reuse and recycling offer promising solutions to this challenge, with the potential to reduce waste and improve sustainability while creating economic opportunities.
I recently had the chance to speak at the EV Battery Recycling & Reuse Conference in Detroit to talk about “Strategies and Challenges in Repurposing EOL EV Batteries”.
Lithium-ion batteries are losing capacity over time depending on how the electric vehicle owner uses the battery. Most electric vehicle warranties last for 8-10 years with the guarantee that the battery will not drop below 70-80% of its original capacity.
Regardless of how long an EV battery lasts, it’s inevitable that at some point in time, the vehicle’s range will drop by 20-30% compared to when it was brand new. This may prompt some owners to consider replacing the battery with a new one and giving the old battery another life.
While reusing electric vehicle (EV) batteries in their second life can provide significant benefits, there are also several challenges that must be addressed.
One of the main challenges is ensuring that the batteries are safe and reliable for their new application. EV batteries that have reached the end of their useful life may have degraded or damaged cells, and their remaining capacity may not be sufficient for certain applications.
Another challenge is finding appropriate second-life applications for the batteries, such as energy storage systems, that can make use of their remaining capacity.
Finally, there are logistical challenges involved in collecting, testing, and refurbishing the batteries, as well as in coordinating their distribution and installation in second-life applications. Addressing these challenges will be key to unlocking the full potential of EV battery reuse and realizing the environmental and economic benefits it offers.
In the panel discussion at the conference, we discussed the following questions:
Through my consulting and social media work, I had the chance to gain some great insights into many of those areas in the past years:
Reusing the battery modules from a Ford Mustang Mach-E to convert a 99 Jeep Wrangler into an all-electric vehicle is an exciting prospect for sustainable transportation enthusiasts – or a crazy couple like Don and me. Learn more about our EV conversion journey here.
The battery modules from the Mach-E have a large capacity and are capable of providing ample power to the Jeep, making it a viable option for daily use. However, several challenges need to be addressed, such as integrating the battery modules with the Jeep’s electrical system and ensuring that the battery pack is safe and reliable.
Nonetheless, repurposing EV batteries in this way could be an innovative and cost-effective solution to reducing emissions from older vehicles, while extending the life of EV batteries and reducing waste.
Unfortunately we could not just reuse the battery modules as they are, because of space and voltage level constraints. So we took the modules apart, tested all the cells, matched them according to capacity/SOH and rebuilt new custom modules for our electric Jeep. Doable? Yes, but hard custom work.
Reducing the need for disassembly, open communication, plus standardization would be a route toward more scalable reuse approaches!
Battery recycling offers one promising way to reduce waste and environmental impact, and there are various methods currently being developed for this purpose. Many startups and companies are working on developing and implementing advanced recycling methods, including hydrometallurgy, pyrometallurgy, and mechanical processes.
Rudolf von Stokar and his team from Reco-E follow the “reverse manufacturing” approach without ever ending up with a black mass, which fascinates me. As an end product, they have high-purity materials that can be used for additive manufacturing!
One step for reuse and recycling will be to know the VALUE of a battery at any time during its lifecycle. Especially when used EVs are being sold to the next owner or when it is time to decide whether or not this battery will have to be replaced and reused/recycled. Surprisingly, the state of health of a battery is not “officially” defined! We need to find such as a standard, e.g. driven by the CARA Battery Health workgroup in Europe! https://lnkd.in/gATYXeim
Read more about that in CHAPTER 15 in my book “The Drive to Electric”
Data is the key to establishing key sustainability performance indicators related to the battery carbon footprint, child labour and human rights challenges. Have a look at the first pilots here: https://lnkd.in/gc6VdcbE
It is one thing to assess the current state of health of a battery but a real key is knowing when the battery will reach it’s first/second/third end of life, so predicting the future. To my knowledge, this can only be achieved if we know the historical data of this battery from when it was produced throughout its entire lifecycle.
Looking forward to sharing more thoughts at the conference. What are your thoughts about electric vehicle reuse and recycling?