The Journey of an Electric Vehicle – From Production to Recycling

Electric vehicles (EVs) are revolutionizing driving experiences with their smooth rides and zero carbon emissions, yet rely on essential minerals such as copper, cobalt, nickel and lithium to be built.

Energy providers can help bridge the EV awareness gap by engaging consumers through tailored nudges that leverage smart meter data insights.

Battery Materials

Once a lithium-ion battery has been retired from an electric vehicle (EV), it is shredded and sent to a recycling facility, where its critical raw materials are extracted for reuse in new batteries.

Current recycling streams consist of only a fraction of EV batteries; however, with each year the number of retiring EVs increasing significantly as they are totaled or outlive their fleet service contracts, recycling companies are working to expand operations accordingly in preparation.

Some companies have developed ways to avoid shredding batteries. One technique called ‘black mass’ extraction separates anode and cathode components of batteries for reuse; however, such technologies aren’t cost-effective on an industrial scale yet. Other researchers are exploring altering battery chemistries in order to decrease cobalt usage; Congress approved funds specifically dedicated to this research last November in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill Congress passed. Ideally battery manufacturers would design products with recycling in mind from day one.

Lithium Ion Battery Recycling

Current only about 5 percent of used EV batteries are recycled; but with an increasing market for electric cars and battery recycling needs.

Battery recycling can be both expensive and complex. Traditional recycling techniques such as mechanical shredding or dissolving batteries in acid have long been employed to separate their constituent elements – cathodes and anodes–from one another, but both these processes waste all of the work put into making original battery materials.

Another issue associated with lithium batteries is their toxic leachates that seep through landfills for long distances, polluting both soil and water resources with heavy metals, additives, electrolyte degradation byproducts and electrolyte degradation byproducts causing health concerns for people nearby. Thankfully there are companies making it possible to recycle lithium batteries without controlled burning and harmful chemicals; instead they use glue-like binder that dissolves in room temperature alkaline water to strip them of metals without burning first.

Carbon Dioxide Emissions

While some might fear EVs will increase greenhouse gas emissions, others have noted this is unlikely given they don’t produce tailpipe emissions and run solely off electricity stored in battery packs.

Recharging an electric vehicle (EV) does create carbon pollution; however, this depends on both how and from where the power comes. For instance, using hydropower instead of coal will result in far fewer emissions being released into the atmosphere.

However, over time the total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with an electric vehicle (EV) are lower than those from traditional gasoline cars due to less fuel usage and greater efficiency – particularly if driven long distances or on highways. Furthermore, GHGs created in producing and charging an EV are lower than from burning one tank of gas.

Metal Recycling

Recycling electric vehicle (EV) batteries has evolved from being an economically profitable sideline into an integral component of global transition away from fossil fuels. Not only does EV battery recycling ease pressure on scarce metals while mitigating environmental impacts associated with mining as well as geopolitical risks associated with sourcing materials from conflict-ridden areas, but recycling also saves precious landfill space and helps ensure global environmental stability.

Dependent upon the process employed, batteries can either be recycled mechanically or burnt using hydrometallurgical or pyrometallurgical methods in order to extract recyclable components such as aluminium, iron, nickel, cobalt and manganese for recycling purposes. Sorted pieces may then be crushed down further for easy recycling purposes.

American Battery Technology Company, a startup founded by former Tesla engineers with its facilities near the Gigafactory outside Sparks Nevada, is among those pioneering innovative solutions to improve recycling. Their experiments involve direct recovery; an alternative process that uses less energy by not shredding batteries but instead using different physical and chemical techniques to separate components instead of shredding them all up for disposal.

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