The world is studying how to deal with the increasing number of discarded electric vehicle batteries.
To achieve the goal of carbon neutrality, countries around the world are increasing the use of new energy electric vehicles, but this has also led to another issue. The battery of energy vehicles has become an environmental and economic problem to be solved.
In 2030, the European Union hopes that there will be 30 million electric vehicles on European roads. How to deal with failed electric vehicle batteries will be a huge challenge. Take the Chinese market as an example. In 2020, a record 1.3 million electric vehicles were sold in the Chinese market, accounting for 40% of global electric vehicle sales.
The market demand and application of a brand-new product is growing at a high speed. While the world is developing electric vehicles, because of thinking about 10-15 years later, when the service life of electric vehicle batteries expires, how to deal with the problem of abandonment? It will cause ecological damage, which is an issue that needs to be addressed urgently at the same time as social development.
The difference between new and old energy vehicle batteries
Although most electric vehicle components are like traditional car components, the biggest difference is the battery.
The lead-acid batteries of traditional energy vehicles can be widely recycled, but the lithium-ion batteries used in new energy electric vehicles are inconvenient to do so. The battery of an electric vehicle is larger and heavier than that of an ordinary fossil fuel vehicle and consists of hundreds of individual lithium-ion batteries, all of which need to be dismantled for recycling. They contain dangerous substances, and if they are disassembled improperly, they tend to explode.
Prospects for the recycling industry of electric vehicle batteries
The European electric vehicle market has huge demand and is expected to develop a new recycling industry. At present, on a global scale, the recycling rate of lithium-ion batteries is still unclear, and many people think it is around 5%. In some parts of the world, it is still far below this number. The European Union recently put forward a proposal that will require electric vehicle suppliers to be responsible to ensure that their products will not be arbitrarily discarded after failure. Most manufacturers have responded.
Many different useful materials are recovered in the recycling process. As a first step, focus on cathode metals such as cobalt, nickel, lithium, and manganese. The existing recycling system can disassemble parts of the battery system such as aluminum and copper.
The pros and cons of recycling electric vehicle batteries
This project aims to optimize the recycling and utilization of electric vehicle batteries and make them as streamlined as possible. In the future, there must be a more efficient and cost-effective electric vehicle battery recycling industry. Although the industry already has some division of labor and can also expand the scale, the efficiency is not high.
For example, most of the substances in current batteries are reduced to so-called black substances (a mixture of lithium, manganese, cobalt, and nickel) during the recycling process. This requires further, energy-intensive processing to recover the relevant materials in a usable form. Manually disassembling electric vehicle batteries can effectively recycle more of these materials, but doing so can also cause problems.
In some markets in China and other countries, health and safety supervision and environmental supervision regulations are more relaxed, and workers' working conditions will not be accepted in the West. In addition, due to higher labor costs, it is currently difficult for the above jobs to form a market with good economic benefits in European countries such as the United Kingdom.
Rare metals and Chinese practices
Although improving the recyclability of electric vehicle batteries poses safety and economic challenges, from another perspective, there are also economic arguments. Electric vehicle batteries have many elements that are difficult to obtain for industrial use in Europe and the United Kingdom.
In the 2021 report on the work of the Chinese government, speeding up the construction of a power battery recycling system will be included for the first time. After the outbreak of the epidemic in 2020, the production capacity of international cobalt mines has severely declined, coupled with limited international logistics, cobalt prices have risen even more. With the rising trend of battery raw materials, the regeneration value of rare metals such as nickel, cobalt, and manganese in electric vehicle batteries has become prominent. As the world's largest electric vehicle market, Chinese industry and scholars also believe that this is an opportunity as well as a challenge. The Chinese industry estimates that by 2030, the power battery recycling market will exceed 100 billion yuan.
However, how China handles the pollution problem in the recycling of power batteries is still being explored. In 2020, the total number of power batteries decommissioned in China is about 200,000 tons, of which many them flow into informal black-market channels such as small workshops, which will cause potential pollution hazards to water resources, land resources, and personnel safety. With the rapid increase in end-of-life electric vehicle batteries, this issue will arouse more and more urgent attention.
In Europe, the answer to this problem is automation and robotics, which can reduce the harm of the electric vehicle battery recycling industry and increase its economic benefits.
In response to global warming and industrial greening, the rise of electric vehicles, and renewable energies, the global electricity, and automobile industries are quietly changing. However, both electric vehicles and green energy storage systems require batteries. Will the batteries be sufficient in the future? In this regard, a recent report by the East Asia Division of Greenpeace pointed out that the retired lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles can meet the global energy storage demand as soon as 2030.
The current battery industry is mainly concentrated in China, South Korea, and Japan, and 85% of the batteries are concentrated in Asia. The report pointed out that the serious supply risks of lithium and cobalt metals in the future will impact the battery manufacturing industry chain and affect the local economy. Therefore, to avoid possible supply shortages in the future, the report believes that more attention should be paid to the "battery recycling" part. Both the recovery of key raw materials from batteries and the "rebirth" of secondary batteries are an important part of the circular supply chain.
Usually, after 5-8 years of electric vehicles, the battery capacity will remain about 80%, and the battery needs to be replaced after a long time. The report pointed out that it is estimated that the world's waste electric vehicle batteries will weigh 12.85 million tons from 2021 to 2030, which is equivalent to 1,285 Eiffel Towers. To meet the increasing demand for batteries, the demand for lithium metal in 2030 is 29.7 times that of 2018. In just ten years, 30% of the world's cobalt metal has been mined, and approximately 10.35 million tons of lithium, cobalt, nickel, and manganese have been mined.
If the replaced electric vehicle batteries are used in the energy storage system, there is no need to worry about whether the batteries in the energy storage system are enough. These electric vehicle batteries can meet all the global energy storage needs in 2030. 368GWh. From the perspective of environmental protection and economics, energy waste can also be saved. Between 2021 and 2030, compared to manufacturing so many new batteries, reuse can reduce the carbon emissions required for manufacturing by 63.34 million tons.
China’s national policy points out that electric vehicles are an important part of emission reduction actions, but the high emissions of electric vehicle manufacturing must also be considered. How to deal with waste batteries is even more critical to billions of dollars and billions of tons of carbon dioxide.
In the future, waste batteries can also be used in 5G equipment, data centers, and energy storage systems to prevent high consumption and waste from affecting climate change and resource extraction. For manufacturers, recycling is also one of the responsibilities of enterprises to reduce carbon. To make electric vehicles a sustainable solution, battery manufacturers and automobile companies must bear the burden of circular economy and social regulations, and the government has to push it behind the scenes.