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Everything you need to know about electric car battery recycling

Battery recycling is another way that electric vehicles continue to be a great choice for the environment, even at the end of use

A black mitsubishi hybrid is charging and two kids and getting toys out of the boot

If you’re moving over to the greener side of driving and are making the switch to an electric vehicle (EV), then you probably want to make sure that those chunky batteries won't end up in a landfill.

Choosing what seems to be the eco-friendly choice and later realising that not all parts of the process are good for the environment can be disappointing. In this case, it’s a relief to know that EV manufacturers are aiming to keep their cars as green as possible.

EVs are definitely a better choice than Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) cars when it comes to our planet, as they don’t release harmful CO2 into the atmosphere as you drive. The manufacturing process is coming on leaps and bounds, so hopefully we’ll see much more environmentally-conscious choices as things develop.

Even though the lifespan of electric car batteries is impressively long, they’re still recyclable when they finally bite the dust. Let us run you through the process.

How do electric car batteries work?

It’s a bit sciencey, but the standard lithium-ion battery is there to perform the function of circulating electrons by creating a difference in two electrodes. There will be one positive electrode and one negative, both sitting in a conductive liquid called electrolyte.

To power a car, the negative electrodes are released through an internal circuit and are sent to meet the positive electrodes. This is known as discharging, and is how the battery works to power a car.

How long do electric car batteries last?

Maybe this will be a surprise to some, but most EV batteries can actually last between 10 to 20 years. Many motorists believe that these batteries have shorter lifespans and have been nervous about making the switch, but you’ll actually get a really good run out of each one before it needs replacing.

In fact, most manufacturers have an eight-year (or 100,000 mile) warranty on their batteries, so they’re confident they’re going to go the distance.

How much do EV batteries cost?

It’s easy to see why some motorists worry about having to replace an EV’s battery – they're usually the most expensive component of the car. On average, they’ll cost around £5,500 but can get even more expensive, so it’s a good job that they don’t need replacing very often. In fact, it’s been reported that some batteries might actually outlive the car itself!

How are they recycled?

The batteries in our EVs will have a long life before they’re no longer fit for use in a car, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be useless. Most EV batteries are given a new purpose in storing energy in the electricity network and in our homes.

When the battery is ready to retire completely, around half of the materials in each unit can be properly recycled. They’ll be separated for valuable materials like copper, aluminium, plastic, and lithium salts.

As EVs become the norm – especially as we move towards the 2035 ban on new fuel car sales – the recycling process is looking to become much more thorough. Many manufacturers are actively working to improve the recycling process, but it’s still a relief that they can be used again and broken down for materials even at the start of the electric boom.

What about when the batteries are completely useless?

There will be a point in an EV battery’s life when it’s retired from driving, has done it’s time in another capacity such as energy storage, and is no longer useful.

Every kind of battery disposal can be seen as harmful to the environment in one way or another, as it’s a really difficult process with lots of substances involved. Currently, end-of-life batteries are ground down and materials such as lithium, manganese, and nickel are extracted for use in new batteries.

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Are electric car batteries bad for the environment?

EVs are becoming increasingly popular across the board, and this has prompted a lot of work into making them as renewable and environmentally friendly as possible.

The initial process of manufacturing EVs does require raw materials that manufacturers rely on mining processes to source. Mining itself does have a negative impact on the environment, so the reusing and recycling process of the batteries is a way to counteract the effects of this process.

In fact, many battery manufacturing factories could soon be running on the power supplied from retired EV batteries. This creates a closed-loop recycling system that’s a much greener approach.

How are manufacturers reducing the environmental impact of EV batteries?

There's been some negative kickback to EVs in recent years, with some stating that the manufacturing and waste processes of the vehicles is just as bad (if not worse) than standard ICE cars. Really, manufacturers are working hard to make the entire lifespan of the EV as green as possible.

Renault has shared plans to use retired EV batteries to generate power for a home energy storage system known as Powervault.

Similarly, Toyota has ambitions to use the batteries outside of stores in Japan to store power from solar panels that can be used for the running of fridges and hot food counters.

For football fans, Nissan is planning to create a back-up power system for the Amsterdam ArenA with repurposed EV batteries. Nissan is also using old batteries to power the automated vehicles in its factories to deliver parts to workers.

Volkswagen has opened its own recycling plant in Germany, and plans to recycle up to 3,600 battery systems per year to begin with.

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