Gas-powered cars are slowly approaching their end, making way for “greener,” more sustainable electrics. Electric cars may be the future, but many people don’t know much about how they work. Since the most widely available electric cars are relatively new, it’s easy not to think about what happens to electric vehicles once they reach the end of their lifecycle. Cars without gas engines don’t produce air pollution while they run, but old, unused electric car batteries raise a whole host of questions.
While conventional Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) cars do have small batteries to control several ancillary functions, the battery is the primary component of a functional electric vehicle. Before we get to how to recycle electric car batteries, it’s worth gaining a basic understanding of how electric car batteries work.
There are three main types of electric car batteries that manufacturers use. From most to least common are lithium-ion, lead-acid, and nickel-metal hydride.
Lithium-ion batteries are found in most electric vehicles produced today. These batteries are relatively simple, sharing their basic internal structure with many portable electronic devices like laptops and cellphones. Each carmaker formulates its lithium-ion batteries differently and ensures the recyclability of these batteries.
In contrast, lead-acid batteries are cheap and hold a lot of power. While widely used as supplemental batteries in ICE cars, these batteries are scarcely found in EVs due to their short life cycle and susceptibility to cold.
Nickel-metal hydride batteries, which have a longer life cycle than lithium-ion or lead-acid batteries, are most common in hybrid vehicles. These batteries don’t have the same energy capacity as lithium-ion alternatives but are extremely stable and stand up well to repeated charge and discharge, making them ideal in hybrids.
Unlike modern ICE cars, where it’s become commonplace for the car’s powertrain (engine, transmission, and drivelines) to last the life of the vehicle, electric car batteries degrade over time. Individual cells lose their ability to hold a charge, making them less effective long-term.
While EVs are prized for their sustainability and lack of pollution, electronic devices generate e-scrap. Disposing of unused electronic components is a significant concern for household electronics, and when scaled up for vehicles, disposing of elements like batteries poses a monumental challenge.
Because of the chemicals needed to make them work, properly disposing of used electric car batteries presents an environmental challenge. Improperly offloaded battery components can spell disaster for ecosystems. Thankfully, the widespread adoption of battery recycling processes can keep hazardous materials from entering the waste stream.
Likewise, materials recovered from old batteries can ease the need for mining or producing the materials needed to create them. There are several different methods for safely recycling electric car batteries, each with its own merits and limitations.
One of the most straightforward processes is direct recovery. In this process, EV energy cells are dismantled, and their various components are sorted. After sorting, all usable parts are resold as a replacement or used in new vehicles.
A more intensive recycling process is smelting, in which organic materials, including the electrolyte and carbon anodes, are burned off at high temperatures. The remaining valuable metals are then recovered and refined, allowing them to be reintroduced to the supply chain, and unusable elements are disposed of.
The ideal way of recycling electric car batteries often involves aspects of both processes. While the process is complex, metal and e-scrap recycling experts can take the load off of consumers and the environment.
If you need to dispose of an electric car battery or any other form of e-scrap, First America Metal Corp. (FAMCe) can help. FAMCe has over 30 years of experience assisting organizations with the secure destruction and recycling of their outdated electronics, providing eco-friendly processing and data security solutions for various devices. Our high level of expertise and exceptional customer service have built our reputation as the leading company for your ITAD needs.
Want to recycle your old metal and devices with confidence? Contact FAMCe today for e-waste disposal that’s ethical and secure.