Will recycling electric car batteries be detrimental to the environment?

Image of an electric car being charged.

Image of an electric car being charged. Credit: Southworks/Shutterstock.com

With the future of motoring being electric cars, despite the argument that this type of vehicle is more ‘green’, an argument has arisen about how their old batteries will be recycled.

There are currently five gigafactories being constructed in Norway, all of which will be producing batteries for electric cars. This is clearly a massive industry as every vehicle will need a battery before it can operate, as reported by ecoticias.com.

However, when these batteries have run their course, the way they are recycled has raised an argument that it could possibly have an adverse impact on the environment that the cars are designed to be protecting.

Sulalit Bandyopadhyay from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim explained: “The problem now is that there is a division between the companies that make the batteries and those that recycle them. The way batteries are produced makes them unnecessarily difficult to recycle”.

Bandyopadhyay continued: What the four new factories have in common is that they will all make battery cells. We can help the industry by making batteries that are much easier to recycle”, he continued.

This is something that could eventually be the normal procedure, suggested the associate professor and battery expert at the Department of Chemical Engineering at NTNU.

Norway is leading the way when it comes to electric vehicles. According to reports, they currently represent four out of every five new vehicles purchased in the Nordic country.

Electric car batteries contain rare metals

Batteries for these types of cars are manufactured using rare metals such as lithium, which can often have a detrimental effect on the environment.

As Bandyopadhyay pointed out: “The environmental impact of all these electric cars could become more questionable if we fail to reuse battery materials, so recycling electric car batteries will be imperative in the future”.

With Bandyopadhyay as its head, researchers at the HolE-LIB project at NTNU are investigating ways of safely recycling the lithium that would come from old batteries.

It is all too obvious that the problems in developing batteries that can be recycled in an easier way are down to the costs involved, added the department head.

As he explained: “Yes, it is more expensive to make batteries that are easier to recycle. But the day the regulations for recycling become more stringent, it will cost money to redesign and rebuild battery production”.

His team has looked into the possibility of repairing the old batteries as opposed to recycling them. Despite no longer being useable on an electric car, a battery still retains around 80 per cent of its charge Bandyopadhyay detailed.

Instead of discarding them, this means they could then possibly be used for other purposes such as domestic use or in public street lighting he suggested.

There are two different types of battery

LFP batteries contain lithium, phosphorus, and iron, so in their case, this would not be possible he insisted. However, NMC batteries must always be recycled, whatever their use, said Bandyopadhyay, as they are made with cobalt, nickel, and manganese.

Bandyopadhyay explained further: “We can imagine replacing some of the faulty cells in batteries that have become unsuitable for cars. And then use these batteries for something else. But here we run into problems with legality and who takes responsibility for the battery afterwards. Is the battery factory or the person who repaired the cells responsible?”.

It would appear that the recycling of electric car batteries currently presents quite a conundrum. Having said that, it is a problem that definitely needs a solution if the world is to convert fully to electric vehicles in the not too distant future.

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Written by

Chris King

Originally from Wales, Chris spent years on the Costa del Sol before moving to the Algarve where he is a web reporter for The Euro Weekly News covering international and Spanish national news. Got a news story you want to share? Then get in touch at editorial@euroweeklynews.com

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