Caroline Palmer reports on a plethora of initiatives seeking to make use of the millions of EV batteries that are due to come offline for their valuable metals and energy storage potential

There is no shortage of organisations attempting to tackle the looming crisis of what to do with the millions of electric vehicle batteries that are about to become redundant because, after 10 years of use, they no longer have enough power.

According to an October report by Greenpeace East Asia, 12.85m tonnes of EV lithium-ion batteries are due to go offline between 2021 and 2030, mainly in China, which has led the world on EV deployment.

Repurposed for energy storage, they could meet the entire world’s energy storage needs as early as 2030, the report says, while recovered metals could help replace the 10.35m tonnes of lithium, cobalt, nickel and manganese that will need to be mined for new batteries.

The recently launched Global Battery Alliance (GBA), which brings together 70 organisations across the battery value chain – including carmakers, the public sector, civil society and relevant initiatives – is working on its framework for a battery “passport”, which would create a standard for sustainability across the supply chain and promote circularity.

A key challenge is the large number of designs on the market that vary in size, chemistry and format

Mathy Stanislaus, the GBA’s interim director, says one of the key factors here is extending the battery’s life for first use. At the moment an EV battery’s life is usually in the region of 10 years.

Then there is the European Battery Alliance, with its stated aim to “develop an innovative, competitive and sustainable battery value chain in Europe”. Its main purpose is to secure a European presence in the China-dominated industry, but it also wants to use regulatory and non-regulatory measures to promote sustainability.

Ada Kong, who wrote the Greenpeace report, is disappointed that Chinese carmakers and EV battery manufacturers are missing from these groups. One of the barriers she sees to the repurposing of EV batteries for energy storage is “at the moment there is no guarantee of the quality, security and safety of the batteries. We need credible standards.

A worker at a German recycling plant dismantles a used EV battery. (Credit: Wolfgang Rattay/Reuters)

A report by McKinsey in 2019 underlined the importance of standardisation, saying that a key challenge “is the large number of battery-pack designs on the market that vary in size, electrode chemistry, and format”, with up to 250 new EV models expected to exist by 2025, featuring batteries from more than 15 manufacturers. 

Most EV makers are working on their own recycling and repurposing schemes, while the Faraday Institution’s ReLiB project brings together several UK universities to develop alternative recycling routes for EV batteries.

In January, VW opened its first plant for recycling EV batteries in Salzgitter. It will recover raw materials including lithium, nickel, manganese and cobalt, together with aluminium, copper and plastics, with the aim of achieving a recycling rate of more than 90% over the long term.

It only recycles batteries that can no longer be used for other purposes, such as energy storage systems, including its flexible rapid-charging station or mobile-charging robot.

Nissan’s Blue Switch project uses its Nissan Leaf car to deliver power in disaster areas hit by extreme weather

VW is also one of the investors in a €1bn venture between Northvolt and Norsk Hydro to build a huge EV battery recycling plant in Norway.

In Japan, Nissan has gone into partnership with Sumitomo Corporation to reuse battery packs from the Nissan Leaf for stationary distributed and utility-scale storage systems. One innovative scheme is Nissan’s Blue Switch project to use its Nissan Leaf car to deliver power in disaster areas hit by extreme weather.

According to the company, a fully charged LEAF e+ can provide enough electricity to power an average Japanese home for up to four days or charge 6,200 mobile phones.

Renault has initiated several projects in Europe using second-life battery technologies as part of its Advanced Battery Storage scheme. It has created two large stationery storage systems, one in France and one in Germany, and the SmartHubs project in the UK. The latter uses batteries from Renault vehicles alongside other technologies as part of a local energy system to help provide cleaner, lower cost energy for use in social housing, transport, infrastructure, private homes and local businesses.

See also Why V2G holds the key to the electric vehicle revolution

Main picture credit: Chris Helgren/Reuters

Lithium-ion  battery storage  EV battery recycling  European Battery Alliance  ReLIB project  Renault  Nissan Leaf 

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