What happens to batteries in electric vehicles after they have been used?

Many interested people and buyers of electric vehicles are wondering what actually happens to the batteries when they are replaced or the vehicle should be scrapped. How are these disposed of? Or will they even continue to be used? Here we give you an overview of the current development.

Since there have been vehicle batteries in combustion vehicles, disposal or recycling has been a challenge that has resulted in new technologies. With the more progressive development of electric vehicles and their batteries, new ways of re-use and disposal are regularly found, as more and more companies and research institutions deal with the topic and develop clean solutions. Because electric cars should not only be environmentally friendly, they should also be able to be disposed of in an environmentally friendly manner.

The second life of vehicle batterie

The first development ensures that more and more batteries lead a “second life” as stationary energy storage after their life in an electric vehicle. This applies in particular to lithium batteries, which are also installed in many of our ARI Motors electric vehicles. This type of battery can serve as energy storage in a vehicle for around 10 years before their charging capacity and thus the range of the vehicle have decreased so much that they can be replaced. However, they usually still have 70 – 80% charge capacity, which of course does not make them useless.

These batteries then often spend their “second life” as stationary storage modules in solar systems, fast charging stations or even in private households. While the batteries in a vehicle are exposed to high loads due to frequent acceleration and charging, the charging processes in stationary operation are significantly slower and therefore gentler. This means that batteries can be used for another 10 years or more, which means that the operating time at least doubles.

Better and better recycling and environmentally friendly disposal

If the batteries then have reached their actual end of life, they must of course be disposed of or recycled. The various substances such as nickel, cobalt and lithium pose the greatest challenge. However, in recent years companies have developed better and better techniques for separating and reusing the materials. The Belgian company Unicore, for example, heats the batteries so much that they melt and the individual components can be separated. This enables recycling rates of 60 – 70% to be achieved.

The process by the Duesenfeld company from Germany delivers even better results. Here the batteries are shredded in a container and then dismantled into their individual parts. A total of 96% of the components can be reused, mostly for the production of new vehicle batteries. According to Duesenfeld, the CO2 consumption is even 40% lower than with a conventional new production.

The Fraunhofer Institute for Recyclable Materials Cycles and Resource Strategy IWKS is currently working on an electrohydraulic process in which the battery components are split up by forced discharge in the water and thus returned to the raw material cycle. With the joint project “AutoBatRec2020”, an even higher proportion of recycling is to be achieved. In addition, the energy consumption in this process is particularly low, which makes the system very promising. Concrete research results are expected when the project ends in January 2021.

Conclusion

The re-use and recycling of electric vehicle batteries is becoming more and more environmentally friendly thanks to broad-based research and development. On the one hand, batteries are no longer disposed of or recycled immediately after use in an electric vehicle, but can continue to do their job for many years to come. On the other hand, the recycling rate is also growing steadily through new technologies in the direction of 100% reuse of the old components, in some cases even to produce new vehicle batteries in a more energy-efficient manner than before. The development in terms of electromobility is not only pointing in the direction of ever greater ranges, but also an extended service life of the batteries and environmentally friendly reuse.