Don’t panic! Electric vehicle batteries can be recycled and no battery mountains….yet!

Findings from a recent study have caused something of a storm recently. The research, which highlighted the issue of excess lithium-ion battery waste, took the stance that waste routes are not keeping pace with growth in the electric car market.

The research is of course correct in its findings that there will be a large amount of battery waste resulting from electric vehicles sold in 2017 alone. However, the implication that there is no recycling option for this waste isn’t quite as accurate.  This is a report on global figures which is not reflective of what we expect to see in the UK where only around 250,000 EV and Hybrid car registrations cumulatively are expected to be on the road by the end of 2019.  The real question to answer is when these cars will reach end of life and this is up for debate.  It’s recently been noted by the SMMT (Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders) that it’s been 18 years since the first mainstream Lithium-Ion powered car and the volume from 'end of life' has not come through as quickly as previously predicted because the cars are lasting longer.  That said, in October 2019 1 in 10 car registrations were electric so the issue of Lithium-Ion Battery wastes is still with us.

The right recycling technology already exists

Here at Cawleys, we recognised some time ago that a sustainable solution would need to be in place when these batteries reach end of life. Considering the government’s objective that all new cars will need to have zero emission technology by 2040, it is extremely obvious that the demand for lithium-ion batteries, and for a sustainable exit route, is set to rocket. With this in mind we set about developing a workable solution.

Complex dismantling process

Rightly, those involved in the study recognise the complexities involved in disposing of and recycling lithium-ion batteries and the need to separate the elements within them. Indeed, there is a spotlight on the worlds reserves of rare earth metals which are used to make a Lithium-Ion battery and it’s clear that there will not be enough to sustain EV car growth ongoing without an established recycling programme.

However, many of the news articles reporting on this research did little to shed any light on those practices and providers that are already exist and do just that.

Sustainable solution

Our facility for example, offers a complete service to those wishing to dispose of lithium-ion batteries from a wide range of vehicles and machinery. From storage and transport, to dismantling and recycling routes, our service is leading the field in this technology and many prominent and well-known manufacturers of electric vehicles are already in discussion with us about how to utilise our services.

Education, communication and more education

Over the next five to ten years we expect more and more end of life electric vehicles will be arriving at insurers, manufacturers and scrap-dealers’ doors We would prefer a focus on education working with manufacturers - As with all products it is really important to consider end of life and enabling practical and effective future dismantling and recycling within the design process There is also no doubt that electric vehicles will help us slash carbon emissions and achieve cleaner air but any publicity that leads the public into thinking that wastes are an issue could damage adoption rates.  We would welcome more studies into recycling success and the positive services that can help address the issue.

Fire risk

There are very real concerns about the potential dangers of stock-piling Lithium-Ion batteries or storing them incorrectly as a recycling market emerges.  Due to the high voltage they carry, these batteries can pose a significant electrical and fire-risk and as such, ensuring they are handled and stored in the correct conditions is hugely important. Similarly, those who may not be fully aware of the expertise needed to transport, dispose and dismantle these batteries could be at risk and could benefit from free training or information packs about the complexities and dangers involved.

Re-use and Recycle

In terms of the wider circular-economy, we believe it is very important that the general public, as well as the automotive industry, are given more information about how these batteries can be responsibly recycled. Transparency is extremely important. We all want to do the right thing to protect the planet and our environment, and it's only by being upfront and honest about all the processes involved in the production of the items we use, and realistic about which of them have valid second life options, that we can truly make the right decisions in our day to day behaviour. With regards to electric vehicles and the batteries that power them, its important to be transparent about where the elements come from and help people understand that Lithium Battery waste is a helpful necessity and not a block to the future of electric vehicles.


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