Electric vehicles (EVs) are becoming more popular and affordable, but they also pose a challenge to the environment: what to do with their batteries when they reach the end of their life span? According to Reuters, the US government is offering incentives for recycling and reusing EV batteries, which could create a lucrative market for companies that can extract valuable metals and materials from them.
The problem of EV battery waste
Electric vehicle batteries are made of lithium-ion cells containing metals such as cobalt, nickel, manganese, and lithium. These metals are scarce and expensive, and mining them can have negative impacts on the environment and human rights.
According to a report by the International Energy Agency (IEA), the global stock of EV batteries will increase from about 170 gigawatt-hours (GWh) in 2019 to 2,600 GWh in 2030 and to 7,500 GWh in 2040. This means that by 2040, there will be enough EV batteries to power about 140 million homes for a year.
However, these batteries will also lose their capacity and performance over time and eventually need replacement. The IEA estimates that by 2030, there will be about 12 million tons of old electric vehicle battery waste globally; by 2040, this will rise to 34 million tons.
If these batteries are not properly recycled or reused, they could end up in landfills or incinerators, where they could leak toxic chemicals, cause fires or explosions, or emit greenhouse gases. Moreover, throwing away these batteries would waste precious resources that could be used for making new batteries or other products.
The solution of EV battery recycling and reuse
To address the problem of electric vehicle battery waste, the US government is encouraging the development of a circular economy for EV batteries, where they can be recycled or reused multiple times before being disposed of.
According to Reuters, the US Department of Energy (DOE) has launched several initiatives to support EV battery recycling and reuse, such as:
- The ReCell Center is a research hub that aims to develop technologies and processes for recovering materials from EV batteries at lower cost and higher efficiency.
- The Lithium-Ion Battery Recycling Prize is a competition that awards cash prizes to innovators who can design and demonstrate solutions for collecting, sorting, storing, and transporting used EV batteries.
- The Second Life Battery Atlas is a database that collects information on the availability, location, condition, and performance of used EV batteries that can be reused for other applications.
The DOE is also working with other agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Transportation (DOT), to establish standards and regulations for the safe and sustainable management of EV batteries.
The US government is not alone in promoting old electric vehicle battery recycling and reuse. Other countries, such as China, Japan, South Korea, and the European Union (EU), have also implemented policies and programs to support this sector.