World Electric Vehicle (EV) Day celebrates e-mobility and acts to increase awareness about sustainable transport. The goal is to encourage a shift from our global reliance on fossil-fueled transport towards a sustainable future where the electric vehicle takes center stage.
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To mark World EV Day 2021, we look at the current state of electric vehicles and discuss how the industry will overcome the challenge of establishing a sustainable method of recycling the lithium-ion batteries that power EVs.
How Do Batteries Power Electric Vehicles?
Batteries are considered a renewable energy source as they do not require fossil fuels for power, unlike traditional car engines. Those that are used to power EVs are built from thousands of cells and are designed to manage the charging and discharging of energy by enlisting the vast quantities of valuable metals built into each battery pack. Typically, battery packs are constructed into cylindrical, prismatic, or pouch designs that are arranged in modules welded together. Inside the cells of the modules, sheet-like electrodes are placed either in a stacked sandwich-like fashion or curled up together, with an electrolyte occupying the space in-between.
Electricity is generated when the lithium ions within the cells flow through the electrolyte from the anode to the cathode, forcing electrons to flow in a circuit. Charging is the opposite process, reversing the flow of electrons.
The Importance of Developing Recycling Strategies for Batteries to Enhance EV Popularity
By 2035, it is predicted that more than half of all new passenger vehicles produced will be electric. This rapid adoption of EVs results from increasingly urgent policies that are implemented to reduce the levels of human-induced carbon emissions. Personal vehicles currently present a significant source of carbon emissions that must be tackled to limit the global rise in temperatures.
While electric vehicles offer a method of reducing the emissions attributed to personal vehicles, the solution is yet to reach 100% sustainability. The challenge lies in establishing a sustainable approach to recycling the batteries that power these vehicles.
It is predicted that the use of EVs will soar in the coming years as the pressure to reduce emissions increases. The demand for battery component materials will require significant mining, which is counterintuitive to the goal of developing an environmentally friendly transport option.
Improving battery recycling reduces the waste associated with EVs, cuts down on the emissions involved with mining for new materials, and reduces the environmental impact of EV, making them more sustainable. Ultimately, the popularity of electric vehicles is enhanced.
The Current Industry for EV Battery Recycling
A number of start-ups, companies, and agencies are currently working on strategies to improve EV lithium-ion battery recycling to improve their sustainability. The market is presently segmented, with many organizations taking portions of multiple global regions.
In the UK, for example, Eco Recover has teamed up with Fenix Battery Recycling to establish a new recycling scheme for PEV (Personal Electric Vehicle) batteries that will serve the UK and Ireland. A pilot scheme was recently launched to test the program which aims to provide a complete, reliable, and eco-friendly solution for recycling EV batteries. The system works by providing collection points for people and companies to leave end-of-life lithium-ion batteries from EV. These batteries are then collected and taken to Fenix’s recycling facility.
The solution is the first of its kind in the UK and will likely inspire more companies to develop similar solutions. Currently, Fenix is the only company in the UK with a lithium-ion battery recycling facility, although more will be needed to meet the future needs of the EV market.
Other global locations are already more advanced in their EV battery recycling capabilities. Given that most lithium-ion batteries are produced in China, Japan, and South Korea, it is unsurprising that the recycling capabilities of these regions are growing fast. Guangdong Brunp, based in China, is the world’s largest producer of lithium-ion cells. The company also has the ability to recycle 120,000 tons of batteries per year (the equivalent of 200,000 cars).
The example provided by Guangdong Brunp is a system that would be beneficial to copy around the world. Companies that produce vast amounts of batteries should also take responsibility for delivering widely available recycling options. Government policies to encourage this assumption of responsibility are becoming more commonplace; China already has financial and regulatory incentives for companies that produce batteries.
The European Commission has strict battery-recycling requirements, likely to be phased in from 2023, and the administration of US President Joe Biden has announced that it plans to invest billions in its domestic EV battery-manufacturing industry to support recycling.
What Does the Future Look Like for Local Lithium-Ion Recycling?
Given the vital role EV will play in the future, efforts to enhance their sustainability will likely become a stronger focus for the industry
Already, major global players in the production of electric vehicle batteries are assuming responsibility for recycling their products, a tactic that will be beneficial to adopt across the globe. In the future, it is predicted that lithium-ion recycling will become more accessible on a local level and that future EVs will be produced with recycled batteries rather than new ones. Establishing systems that support local lithium-ion recycling will be vital to securing the future sustainability of EVs. Given the rapid market growth, providing locally accessible recycling facilities will be critical.
References and Further Reading
Castelvecchi, D., (2021) Electric cars and batteries: how will the world produce enough? Nature, 596(7872), pp.336-339. Available at: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-02222-1
Moore, D. (2021) Eco Recover Partners with Fenix to deliver UK-first sustainable battery recycling. [online] Circular Online. Available at: https://www.circularonline.co.uk/news/eco-recover-partners-with-fenix-to-deliver-uk-first-sustainable-battery-recycling/
The Guardian. (2021) Millions of electric car batteries will retire in the next decade. What happens to them?. [online] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/aug/20/electric-car-batteries-what-happens-to-them
Worldevday.org. (2021) About WEVD. [online] Available at: https://www.worldevday.org/about-wevd