Electric car sales broke the one million mark two years ago, and last year there were around two million EVs (electric vehicles) that were sold. As they continue to increase in popularity, EVs may account for over half of all new car sales by the year 2040.
This is good news for environmentalists, as such a transition will drastically help to decrease carbon emissions, however, the challenge will be to figure out how to manage the lithium-ion batteries that come to the end of their rechargeable power giving capacities. EV sales from 2017 in the United Kingdom suggest that approximately 250,000 metric tons of these batteries will need to be dealt with once they’ve surpassed their life spans, which is roughly 15 to 20 years.
What needs to be done?
“Landfill is clearly not an option for this amount of waste,” says Professor Andrew Abbott from the University of Leicester and co-author of the review. “Finding ways to recycle EV batteries will not only avoid a huge burden on landfill, it will also help us secure the supply of critical materials, such as cobalt and lithium, that surely hold the key to a sustainable automotive industry”.
Alternative applications for the used up batteries will need to be identified. One possible use is for them to take on easier tasks such as holding electricity generated by wind or solar energy sources. More efficient methods of calculating the batteries’ health should be established to better determine whether or not they can be sufficiently restored or recycled.
If the batteries can’t be repaired or repurposed, techniques to salvage useful materials will need to be formed.
“We believe that it is possible to move to more advanced recycling technologies that can not only recover a larger proportion of the materials in the battery but also will be better able to handle the volume of EV waste batteries we anticipate coming through the system,” said Faraday Research Fellow at the University of Birmingham and lead author of the review, Gavin Harper.
Current recycling methods involve smelting the retired batteries and recovering a portion of the materials, but this process is not optimal as a lot of the materials are lost.