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Recycling Electric Vehicle Batteries


By: Haresh Kamath
August 2011

Recycling

Many prospective electric vehicle owners ask what will be done with the battery at the end of its life.  Are we going to end up with huge stacks of old vehicle batteries in junkyards or in landfills?  Vehicle manufacturers are putting a lot of thought and effort into making sure the answer is “no.”

Have you wondered what happens to gasoline vehicles at the end of their useful lives?  Most scrapped vehicles in North America find their way to salvage yards, where any reclaimable parts are recovered for sale.  The rest of the vehicle is then shredded and reduced to scrap, which is then used to make new cars.  More than three-quarters of the materials in a car can be cost-effectively recycled.

What about the lead-acid batteries from today’s gasoline-powered vehicles? They are not typically reused, simply because they don’t last very long.  But electric vehicle batteries are expected to last a lot longer.  It’s possible that they can be pulled out of vehicles at the end of life and reused in other vehicles.  Or they might find entirely different uses, such as emergency backup power at homes and businesses.

Even if batteries can’t be reused, they can still be recycled.  Over 95% of the lead-acid batteries from today’s vehicles are recycled, and the lead contained in them is used to make new batteries.  Electric vehicle batteries can be recycled in a similar way, with the recovered materials going towards the manufacture of new batteries.

But suppose, despite all our precautions, a few electric vehicle batteries get thrown away instead of recycled?  The lithium ion batteries being used in electric vehicles today do not contain toxic metals such as lead, mercury, or cadmium.  This means that even if an electric vehicle battery isn’t recycled, its negative environmental impact is small.

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