Electric vehicles are quickly gaining in popularity, and will play a role in improving the environment and reducing noxious emissions that contribute to climate change, smog, and other issues.
But a plaguing question persists: What will happen to these cars’ lithium-ion batteries when they run out of juice?
It’s an imminent concern. By 2040, roughly 7.8 million EV batteries are expected to no longer be usable in vehicles, according to IDTechEx.
Right now, the US just isn’t that proficient in recycling them, though. In America, 99 percent of lead-acid batteries are recycled compared to about 5 percent of lithium-ion batteries, The New York Times reported. When these batteries are disposed of in landfills, the cells can release harmful toxins, including heavy metals.
Complicating matters, recycling lithium-iron batteries can be problematic in and of itself since the process can require large amounts of water, or emit air pollutants.
Still, a number of EV companies have committed to identifying how to recycle old batteries effectively and also repurpose them.
Tesla, for example, services any battery that’s no longer meeting a customer’s needs, according to the company’s website. All of its scrapped batteries are recycled.
When repurposed properly, used car batteries can continue to be used for 10 years or more for a number of other functions.
Nissan, for example, is using old batteries from the Leaf, its electric city vehicle, to power streetlights.
The car company is also using old EV batteries to help in manufacturing new vehicles.
Nissan uses automated guided vehicles (AGV) to bring production materials to human workers on the factory floor. The AGVs once depended on lead-powered batteries. But Nissan has now figured out how to power its AGVs with modules extracted from the lithium battery that powers the Leaf, according to the Next Web.
One Leaf battery pack can power up to 16 AGVs.
Repurposing the EV batteries is beneficial for the environment and also brings added value to the company.
“With more ways to use batteries, the overall residual value of the LEAF has increased,” Masashi Matsumoto, who promotes the development of AGVs at Nissan’s Production Technology Research and Development Center, told the Next Web.
Hyundai turns discarded EV batteries into power sources for electrical grids, according to Motorbiscuit. BMW Group UK is repurposing retired BWW and MINI EV batteries to be used for mobile power units, which provide power for events, electricity distribution and EV charging, displacing traditional diesel generators, Envirotec reported.
“As the EV revolution continues, we will see a significant need for battery recycling as vehicles end their prescribed duty cycles,” said Mike Landau, CEO of mobility hub company ParkMyFleet. “Utilizing these recycled batteries to store electricity for alternative uses will give them a second life in the EMobility ecosystem.”