As the future turns electric, consumers are wondering where their car batteries come from and what happens to them when they are replaced. It’s smart to be concerned about the environmental impact these things have on our planet. We’ll take a close look at the EV battery process from start to finish. From recycling the old to building the new, your questions are sure to be answered here!
EV batteries are serious business
Front view of the CATL battery production plant that makes batteries for electric vehicles worldwide.
You would think that once an electric vehicle starts to age, they would throw the whole thing in a car crusher at the local landfill. That may have been the case in the past, but not anymore. Battery recycling has grown rapidly in recent decades and is now standard practice when dealing with this potentially toxic waste. While much work is being done to advance the production of EVs to replace fossil fuel cars forever, many people are also working to ensure that EV batteries are properly reused, reused and recycled. This process has largely been left to the EV companies themselves, especially in California, where electric car sales are expected to fully replace gas-powered cars by 2035. we need to be ready to handle all those incoming batteries. But how exactly does this process work?
EV batteries are reused in various ways
Rear view of a forklift replacing EV batteries in storage.
The assumption for most batteries is often that they become worthless once they start to lose their charge. And yes, if you just throw them in a bin on the way to the landfill, it’s not good for the environment. But if it’s given to the right collector (most likely the car company itself when it’s traded in for a new one), you’re doing the planet and the economy a favor. The batteries are often reused in other ways, for example in packs (multiple batteries combined) on your local power grid (or private off-grid) to store energy via solar energy during the day and distribute it at night. Think about that the next time you’re sucking power into your man cave late at night!
Old EV batteries become new batteries
Front view of a Toyota EV86 with the hood open to show the battery.
Even after being used again, batteries will continue to lose charge over time and eventually die. Here comes the part with a good dose of science. Thanks to advancements in the industry, hydrometallurgy is mainly used to break apart, separate and recycle the various components that make up car batteries. This process isn’t sophisticated – it’s actually been around for over a decade – and it continues to evolve and get better every year. Essentially, the event goes like this: The batteries are dumped into giant shredders that cut them into tiny pieces. This shredded mixture is then dumped into water where the plastic (floats) is separated from the metal (sinks). The plastic is recycled and the metal is separated and reused to make – you guessed it – new batteries! Many of these recycling companies are located right here in the US. And while they may slightly change the process here and there, the essentials remain the same. The best part is that these companies report EV battery recovery rates as high as 98 percent.
EV batteries are built with raw and recycled materials
Interior view of the Tesla factory
Now that we have all these fine recycled materials, we’re back at the beginning. This may lead you to wonder “how exactly are car batteries made?” The construction process, like the recycling process, has come a very long way in recent decades. The old lead and acid batteries are rapidly being phased out and lithium-ion batteries are taking their place. The new batteries are made of carbon or graphite, a metal oxide and lithium salt – these ingredients combine to form the positive and negative electrodes. When combined with electrolytes, they produce the electrical power your car needs. The batteries are built in large factories that build the new batteries we have in our cars when they come out of the lot. Once they are old, they are recycled. Thanks to this whole process, the future looks bright – from crafting new ones to shredding the old ones. New research shows that by the year 2050, recycled materials could provide 45 to 52 percent of the cobalt, 22 to 27 percent of the lithium and 40 to 46 percent of the nickel used in U.S. auto markets.
Myths about EV battery recycling
An exterior view of a factory spewing air pollution during a sunset.
Many people may hear the positives of recycling car batteries (and all batteries in general) and think there is no downside to it – but like most things in our world, it’s not yet a perfect process. Waste is inevitably produced by the battery recycling process and it creates areas of toxic waste to deal with. However, the good news is that these battery recycling companies have a strong incentive to reduce waste because they can sell the materials they save – the more they save/recycle, the more money they can make. The factories they build get better with each new design, to the point where they can save ever-increasing amounts of material on the batteries they shred, melt down and resell to the starving battery industry. This helps reduce the amount of toxic environments created by mining and older style recycling centers when looking for fresh or poorly recycled products. However, it is important to note that even in environments where refined waste is produced by “dirty recycling”, it is still better for the environment and a good investment compared to the older ways of not recycling and for new products on trust oil. Introducing chemists and engineers into the projects increases the number with ever-faster cleaner recycling, approaching 100 percent success rate in some cases.
Exterior view of an oil field in Panjin, Liaoning, China.
Another myth that revolves around the EV industry is that nothing is trying to stop them – this is far from the truth. The oil industry has been trying to stop electric car competition for decades, and today is no different. However, the oil companies have found it much harder to push this time due to the fact that the companies they are trying to push have as much money as the oil companies, as do all their friends. Gasoline was the glue that held the two types of business together, our fathers knew them well. Unfortunately, that glue has worn away and doesn’t age well – it’s being replaced. This isn’t to say that oil doesn’t still have its modern uses – but when it comes to cars and much of the power grid, the future is electric. The more emissions we can remove, the better. The oil industry is much like the cigarette industry – it simply cannot spend enough money on the problem of killing millions of people to get away with it. Cigarette smoke and pollutant emissions are in many ways the same – they are both deadly to humanity. Switching to electric transport and power grids would reduce emissions so much that we could contribute to a better future for our children who will inherit the planet.
Q: How are EV batteries treated when they get old?
As long as they are disposed of properly, most car batteries can be reused or recycled.
Q: How are EV batteries recycled and reused?
Car batteries are usually grouped into large clusters to create huge energy storage units that can be used in a variety of ways, such as storing energy for your city’s power grid.
Q: How are EV batteries recycled after they run out?
Once the battery is finally drained and can no longer be used, it will be shredded. The components are then separated using hydrometallurgy and recycled to make new batteries.
Q: How are EV batteries made?
EV car batteries are built in large manufacturing plants that export batteries around the world. They are made with carbon or graphite, a metal oxide, and lithium salt. Battery companies use a combination of raw and recycled materials to build new batteries.