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What happens to end-of-life EV batteries?

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A recycling machine for end of life EV batteries in front of a building.

What happens to end-of-life EV batteries?

Recycling ordinary batteries is one thing. Disposing of used batteries from electric vehicles (EVs) is quite another. Depending on the make of a vehicle, its battery—which makes up about a third of the car’s weight—could last from 2 to 11 years. But then what?

Toxicity concerns

An electric vehicle (EV) car with a battery inside of it, necessitating appropriate recycling and disposal of old batteries at the end of their life cycle.

Electric cars rely on batteries needed to power them. However, the batteries contain toxic metals and mercury, a chemical element known as quicksilver. Toxicity, of course, is an issue. In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports there are about 2 billion cell phones in our country, and each contains an average of 3.5 milligrams of mercury. When a cell phone is in use, the battery causes the release of mercury into the air and, eventually, into the ground, soil, and water. However, EV batteries can enjoy a long life. Nissan reports that during a 10-year life span, an EV battery only loses one-third of its charge. So, the long-lasting EV battery can reduce emissions and help fight the climate change crisis. The lasting EV battery is good since one EV battery alone can cost as much as $20,000.

EV battery end-of-life opportunities

An image capturing the end of life EV batteries in a car.

Lithium-ion EV batteries can be recycled, but the process must be handled carefully. A new technology known as closed-loop recycling has made the transport process safer. The costs for recycling lithium-ion batteries are covered in the price of electric vehicles and thus are passed along to buyers. Such batteries can capture excess power generated by solar energy systems. The power can be used to meet a spike in demand caused by an overload to an electrical grid. Large batteries are also used as power storage devices for homes and businesses. Known as distributed storage, this is part of a transition to cleaner energy that avoids reliance on power plants.

Recycling EV battery packs

Someone placing a green device in a mailbox while considering the end of life for EV batteries.

Disposing of hundreds of pounds of batteries may seem impossible, but EV batteries are sought after for their expensive metals. There is a precedent for disposing of smaller, high-voltage batteries found in hybrid vehicles such as the Toyota Prius. Auto recyclers (formerly called junkyards) and automobile dealerships send the batteries to e-recycling businesses. These specialists break the battery packs down into their different components: wires, circuitry, and the actual cells. Materials such as magnesium, cobalt, nickel, and lithium are crushed, and the metals are purified for reuse.

Looking ahead

At the end of life, an EV battery is plugged into a charging station.

Even when an EV battery pack has lost a quarter or more of its peak capacity, there is still plenty of energy storage left—the equivalent of up to three days’ worth of electricity used in the average American home. Projections are that the demand for batteries will escalate in line with the transition to EVs. To this end, the Inflation Reduction Act promises hefty subsidies for batteries produced in the U.S. The Act only applies to purchases of battery materials from approved countries. Note that China, the world’s greatest source of EV battery metals, is excluded from this list.

In short, if you currently own or are thinking about owning an electric vehicle, you need not be concerned about the disposition of your EV’s end-of-life battery pack. It will ultimately be broken down into component parts that will be reused—possibly in the next EV you intend to purchase.

A woman in a green dress holding a laptop shows her commitment to sustainability.

Mother Nature doesn’t want your old computers but we do.


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