Why recycling electric car batteries is as important as the cars themselves

Electric vehicles are on the way to widespread adoption thanks to improved technology and pricing, government incentives, commitments from automakers, the fight against climate change and rising fuel prices. Paul Anderson, professor of strategic elements and materials sustainability at the University of Birmingham, told the BBC that ”
the pace at which we are developing the industry [des véhicules
électriques] it’s absolutely scary
“. He fears a battery pump » in 10 to 15 years, when it will be necessary to manage the massive recycling of these accumulators.

That’s not to say that electric cars won’t make a big difference, but that they should improve a more complex problem than it seems. It needs to be a better overall solution, not just a car with no exhaust. This requires a battery life cycle program built around the four “Rs”: reuse, repurpose, recycle and reduce.


The best way to prevent an electric vehicle battery from becoming a problem is to be able to reuse it. This may involve recovering good batteries from damaged vehicles to install them in other cars or moving towards interchangeable battery systems as recommended by VinFast, Nio and Ample. Regardless of how reuse is implemented, it is the most straightforward way to fully exploit an electric car battery.

The principle of reuse will become a more significant concept as the number of electric vehicles on the road increases, creating a larger market for the used car aftermarket sector. But reuse doesn’t get around the fact that, at some point, a battery loses its capacity and becomes unsuitable for powering an electric vehicle. That’s where the second “R” comes in.


When an electric car battery is removed and used in another application, it is said to have been converted again. At Nissan, the 4R Energy program describes these batteries as Category B or C. Category B batteries can be used regularly, but with less intensity, for example to power electrical barriers at level crossings or off-road electric vehicles such as forklifts, which do not raise concerns about their autonomy. Category C batteries are degraded to the point where they can only be used for tasks such as building emergency LED lighting, where consumption is intermittent and generally low.

With 4R Energy, Nissan and Sumitomo are committed to reuse and recycling. 4R Energy

Volkswagen and Electrify America are among companies advocating reusing electric vehicle batteries at charging stations, where they can store solar energy or cheap electricity during off-peak hours.


Recycling electric vehicle batteries is a challenge big enough that former Tesla chief technical officer JB Straubel left the company to focus on founding startup Redwood Materials. The company likes to say that ”
the largest lithium and cobalt mines in the western hemisphere are in our country’s dumps
not to mention the floor of our electric cars.

Lithium, nickel, cobalt and other materials found in electric vehicle batteries are a toxicity problem that recycling must address.


This is not a technological solution, but an intellectual one. The reduction is based on the idea that electric vehicles need the right range, not the maximum range. When this idea is assimilated, buyers of an electric car can move to an affordable model with a range of 300 km instead of choosing one capable of traveling 600 or 800 km, which costs much more and requires a battery. This helps to reduce the total tonnage of batteries produced, making earlier 3Rs easier to perform.

The battery life cycle will likely interest most buyers as much as the return curve of their new car or calculating the total cost of ownership. It is also a key concern to maximize the benefits of the upcoming transition to electric cars.

CNET.com article adapted by CNETFrance

Image: Redwood materials

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