What To Do With EV Batteries After Their Useful Life?

Although electric and hybrid vehicles are gaining market share, one significant question remains: how can the used lithium-ion batteries be processed after their lifespan in a vehicle?

A peer-reviewed Mineta National Transit Research Consortium report, titled Remanufacturing, Repurposing, and Recycling of Post-Vehicle-Application Lithium-Ion Batteries, offers three possible alternatives.

  • Remanufacturing for intended reuse in vehicles by replacing any damaged cells within the battery shows promise.
  • Repurposing could be accomplished by reengineering a battery for a non-vehicle, stationary storage application.
  • Recycling would involve disassembling each battery cell and safely extracting the precious metals, chemicals and other byproducts to be sold on the commodities market or re-introduced into a battery manufacturing process.

The study, conducted by Charles R. Standridge, PhD, and Lindsay Corneal, PhD, can be downloaded for free in pdf form here.

“Lithium-ion batteries provide efficient energy storage,” said Dr. Standridge. “Their use in vehicles will continue to expand, but we must deal with disposition once they fall below regulatory standards for use in on-road vehicles. To address that challenge, our studies have shown that many of these batteries may still hold a significant charge level and thus have additional economic value that can be reclaimed in one of three ways.”

Researchers said results from forecasting models show that by 2035, the number of available post-vehicle-application batteries will range from 1.376 million (conservative) to 6.759 million (optimistic), which is sufficient to justify remanufacturing, repurposing, and recycling efforts.

A cost-benefit analysis was done independently for each of the three processes, with graphs provided in the report. Costs included operations, transportation, material handling, infrastructure development, and facility development. Benefits included avoided costs for battery storage and new battery production as well as sales of repurposed batteries and recovered materials in recycled batteries. Additional costs and benefits were shown for each individual process.

Most significantly, added the team, recycling is economical only if supported by post-vehicle remanufacturing and repurposing applications.

Proprietary processes for remanufacturing, including comprehensive battery testing, have been developed by the team’s research partner Sybesma’s Electronics in Holland, Mich.