What Happens to Old Electric Car Batteries?
The very notion of “old electric car batteries” is quite a strange one, specifically because electric cars themselves are not that oldand the batteries inside them are designed to be able to last for a very long time. To be sure, replacing an electric car battery is not the same deal as swapping out a few USB rechargeable AA smart batteries from their devices ahead of recharging. Pale Blue Earth, manufacturers of such batteries, say that these types of new batteries are much more sustainable. EV batteries though are a problem.
Nevertheless, electric cars are not as new as you might think (the first electric car is actually many decades old).In fact, there have been a large number of “old” electric car batteries that have had to be disposed of in recent times. Of course, there is the question of how the electric car batteries of the future will be disposed of. Given that most car manufacturers have pledged to completely phase out gas-powered vehicles by some time in the 2030s, there is going to be a whole lot of them.
A Coming Challenge
In fact, what will happen with the electric car batteries of the future is something of a sustainability crisis that is far from yet having an answer. It is a terrible irony that electric cars – designed to be climate neutral – have inside them a huge multi-celled lithium-ion battery that cannot, as yet, be sustainably disposed of. Indeed, the number of these batteries expected to be needed is so large that there is not even the manufacturing infrastructure in place to possibly produce so many.
Moreover, this is not the only problem. These batteries are also unsustainable in manufacture. The manufacturing process for lithium-ion car batteries requires, funnily enough, a whole load of lithium. This is not a substance that can be sustainably acquired at present, involving huge lithium mines thatdamage local environments and pollute waterways.
This is therefore a challenge that will require lateral thinking and innovative approaches to solve.
How Old Car Batteries Are Disposed Of
There is an especially importantdetail here that needs to be stressed first. EV batteries are not finished when they stop being able to power cars over an acceptable distance without being recharged. When they reach that point, they still have plenty of life left in them – just not enough to efficiently power an EV. This means they are repurposed for all sorts of other operations that could use a large EV battery instead of relying on unsustainable sources.
However, after they have truly run out – and are not even good for these purposes anymore – they are, to put it in the only way possible, partially recycled. The materials of a spent battery can be smelted down and those materials reused in industry (this is not a sustainable process). Furthermore, much of the materials that are useless are simply tossed away. We would hope that this is not straight into a landfill, but that depends very much on where in the world these batteries are being disposed.
Hope For the Future?
As mentioned, this is a problem far from solved. Nonetheless, there have been new initiatives that are trying to do something about it, all of them revolving around overcoming the challenges facing the transition to electric vehicles. The smelting process is hoped to become more efficient in future and the range of applications for degraded – yet not spent – batteries expanded.
Whatever way we go, this is a challenge that simply needs to be overcome. It is too late to go back now.