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Understanding the Basics of Recycling Electric Vehicle Batteries

The future is now. Electric vehicles are no longer a sci-fi fantasy or something only accessible to individuals with deep pockets. Responding to the global push to reduce carbon emissions, more major auto manufacturers are coming out with affordable, everyday models bringing electric cars to middle-class consumers. As the demand surge begins, experts are already warning of a key sustainability risk that could be realized as soon as 2030.

The essence of EVs is the battery. It’s what makes electric vehicles, well, electric. Designed to last years and thousands of miles of use, EV batteries contain precious, non-renewable minerals deep within their thousands of cells. Scientists and manufacturers now need to figure out how to recycle EV batteries before we encounter a global mining crisis and (more) overloaded landfills.

But research efforts are underway! And this is one saga we at Solid Equipment Company will follow closely. For now, we’ll share what we know so far. We’ll start with a brief review of how batteries work, then get into the fascinating details of EV battery recycling.

How Does a Battery Work?

A battery converts chemical energy into electrical energy. Thus, all batteries have some sort of liquid chemical inside of them.

The main components of a battery are:

  • Chemical base
  • Electrodes
  • Electrolyte solution

Nickel, cadmium, lead, acid, and lithium are the most common battery chemical bases. Electricity is generated when the chemical base flows between two electrodes (the “plus” and “minus” ends of a battery) via a conductive chemical called an electrolyte solution. The grouping of these basic components is called a cell. Lastly, all batteries have some sort of casing around them to protect the cells and hold them in place.

What Makes EV Batteries Different?

The main components of an EV battery are the same as other batteries, but the size and amounts of those components are vastly different (aka larger).

A standard car battery is a 12-volt battery with six cells. EV batteries have thousands of cells. A standard car battery weighs between 30 to 50 pounds. An EV battery weighs 1,000 pounds or more.

The other foundational difference is the chemical base. Standard car batteries have a lead-acid base, while EV batteries use the now infamous (thanks to cell phones) lithium-ion base.

Imminent Importance of Recycling EV Batteries.

Lithium-ion batteries are the choice battery for electric cars and other high-use electronics because they can store a lot of electricity in a small amount of space (high energy density). Lithium, cobalt, copper, and nickel are raw materials found in lithium-ion batteries.

Raw materials such as these come from the Earth and must be mined. But mining alone will not support mass EV battery production.

The amount of these minerals on the Earth is finite, therefore, industries must figure out how to recycle EV batteries and extract the minerals for reuse.

Better recycling methods are also needed to make sure the exceptionally large EV batteries don’t end up in landfills (spoiler alert: There isn’t enough space).

How Electric Vehicle Battery Recycling Works

Only three methods exist currently. Each is very primitive but nonetheless presents useful pros and cons scientists can learn from. These methods are pyrometallurgy, hydrometallurgy, and direct recycling. While some are better than others in various areas, the collective benefits do not come close to addressing the issue on a large scale.

The most pressing need is an eco-responsible process for extracting the valuable (and non-renewable) raw materials from the chemical cells. Recycling industries have much to perfect with the extraction process. Current methods are not energy smart or eco-friendly — yet.

Many organizations throughout the world are facing the challenge head-on, including the Faraday Institution’s Reuse and Recycling of Lithium-Ion Batteries (ReLib) project at the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom.

Equipment for EV Recycling.

While there is much to discover around EV battery recycling, Solid Equipment Company has many products that can support the possibilities at a large scale, and we’re excited to contribute to the global cause.

The jury is still out on extracting raw materials from the chemicals, but stainless steel separation conveyors and wire granulators can extract the precious copper and aluminum from electrical wires. EV batteries have a fair amount of wiring to them as well, and our equipment is at the ready.

Given their built-to-last construction, cracking into EV batteries will likely require hydraulic equipment, while attachments for heavy-duty lifting offer safety and efficiency to any industrial operation. The GYRB-brand attachments we sell are adaptable to all types of machinery already on the market, perhaps creating opportunities for easy implementation when the time comes for large-scale EV battery recycling. Recyclers will need something to lift those 1,000-pound batteries!

About Solid Equipment Company

Solid Equipment Company is an industrial recycling equipment distributor that offers an extensive selection of new and used equipment from top manufacturers, designed to recover full value from the entire range of metal and scrap products. We distribute all throughout the United States and Canada.

If you’re in the metal recycling business and looking to improve your profitability, call (866) 511-7720 today and get started on a consultation with one of our experts.

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