When the battery of an electric car degrades it ceases to fulfill the mission for which it was originally created, but that does not mean that its useful life has ended. Two possibilities then open up for her. The reuse in a “second life” it is the one considered more sustainable since it is an intermediate step before its final recycling. However, before making a decision it is important to take into account other factors, the most important of which is chemical composition of the battery. This is responsible for the useful life left for its reuse and the sale price of its materials as raw material.
The demand for lithium-ion batteries will grow significantly in the coming decades, which will mean that the number of them that reach the end of their useful life will increase and that they must be eliminated from vehicles. In 2020, the number of withdrawn batteries will be around 14 GWh, which means around 102,000 tons of materials per year to which a new destination must be found. According to the latest IDTechEx report, Li-ion Battery Recycling 2020-2040, the total number of electric vehicle batteries that will reach the end of their useful life will be 7.8 million tons per year. By 2040, the global lithium-ion battery recycling market will be worth $ 31 billion each year.
When an electric vehicle battery is nearing the end of its useful life, it can still have a second life in alternative applications. Another option is recycle your chemical components to reintroduce them as raw materials in the production process. Unlike those used in consumer electronics, the batteries removed from electric vehicles still retain 70 to 80 percent of its initial capacity. While at that percentage they no longer meet the minimum requirements for use in an electric vehicle, they could still provide enough capacity for less demanding applications, such as stationary energy storage.
Some electric car manufacturers like Nissan, Renault, BMW, Volkswagen or BYD They are already studying various scenarios to ensure a second life that offers economic viability. However, there are companies like Tesla who claim that all their batteries will be recycled directly without going through the previous step of reuse.
In theory, recycling is a less sustainable solution for circular economy and should be considered as the last step for a battery, when it can no longer be reused. However, in practice many more factors have to be considered. One of the most influential in the decision is related to battery chemistry. For example, lithium ferro phosphate (LFP) batteries are widely used by those by the largest Chinese manufacturers of electric vehicles. It has been used primarily on many electric buses in China for two main reasons: its security and its lower price. According to BYD, the technological leader in this market, its reuse is economically viable, but it is not so if they are dedicated to recycling.
Unlike NCM (nickel-cobalt-manganese) or NCA (nickel-cobalt-aluminum) batteries, the components of LFP batteries are relatively low in value as this technology does not use high-value metals. The approximate price of metals for LFP batteries is three times less than that of NCM batteries. Further, LFP battery life cycle is longer, which added to their greater structural security, makes them ideal candidates for stationary storage.
In any case, whether or not the intermediate step of reuse is used, all the batteries removed from electric vehicles must be recycled at the end of their useful life. This process becomes a crucial solution to the current insecurity regarding the supply of raw materials and price fluctuations. By recovering critical raw materials from lithium-ion batteries, manufacturers can protect themselves from supply disruptions and also generate additional revenue streams.