Used EV batteries should be recycled, not reused

December 13, 2016

Car batteries should still be recycled rather than reused, according to a new report. This is even the case where  lithium-ion batteries still have some storage capacity after they have deteriorated too much for automotive use. 

Lux Research highlights that recycling the battery packs is a better option, because subjecting batteries to perpetual re-use leads to ‘less frequent and shallower depth of discharge cycles.’ Ultimately, this leads to ‘questionable returns on account of reduced performance’.   

Lead author and Lux Research Associate Christopher Robinson said: ‘With present technology, recycling old batteries for new materials is the more economical option for creating the most value from existing materials.’ 

Re-using post-automotive batteries for residential energy storage is deemed to be unsuitable. Even if the ‘spent’ batteries are cheaper to purchase, ‘reduced round-trip efficiency and cycle life’ mean that they will not be appropriate. 

The news will come as a blow to BMW and Nissan, both of whom expressed interest in remarketing lithium-ion battery packs from their electric vehicles (EVs) for residential use. General Motors, Nissan and Toyota have also researched using such energy-storage solutions in commercial settings.  

In contrast, Tesla recycles all its batteries, as its NCA cathodes are generally not suitable for energy storage. 

Being unable to sell the ‘spent’ batteries for less intensive applications is likely to raise the forecast TCOs of brands that banked on such remarketing revenue, increasing the cost of electric vehicles. 

Robinson added: ‘... innovations in areas like packaging and testing could tip the balance in the future, so companies should have plans for both recycling and reuse.’ 

The report recommends smelting (pyrometallurgical processing) as the most mature recycling technology. It adds that mechanical processing can recover valuable cathode materials directly, while hydrometallurgical processing can be lower cost. 

Lux predicts that second-life batteries will offer only limited cost savings, especially as new cell prices continue to fall. Nevertheless, with more efficient testing, sorting, and repackaging, second-life systems could be made more competitive for applications like demand response (shifting your electricity usage off-peak) and to provide back-up power. 

With ‘spent’ battery packs – known as ‘second life’ battery packs – offering a total of 65GWh of energy entering the global market in 2035, getting the greatest rate of return will be a critical aspect in making each OEM’s electric vehicle programme competitive.

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