EV battery life — and afterlife

  • Mary Chicoine of Greenfield charges her Kia Niro at a ChargePoint charging station in the Olive Street Parking Garage in Greenfield. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

For the Recorder
Published: 12/2/2022 7:19:04 PM
Modified: 12/2/2022 7:18:51 PM

Lithium ion battery technology for electric vehicles has been developing at a lightning pace, constantly improving battery range and speeding up charging capabilities. As the batteries can last 10 to 15 years before needing to be replaced, not many have been retired from their vehicles, but that will soon change.

So what happens to that battery when its time in an electric vehicle is up?

Once an EV battery loses its capacity to power a vehicle, its life is not over.

If undamaged, most batteries will still be useful for other purposes, such as being reused for energy storage in an electricity network, or recycled to make new EV batteries.

On Nov. 16, the U.S. Department of Energy announced that nearly $74 million in funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will be used to advance the technologies for reusing and recycling EV batteries.

According to of the Union of Concerned Scientists, when a battery reaches the end of its usefulness powering an EV, it is still at about 80% capacity and has a lot of storage potential for less demanding applications.

This second life use can be as backup storage for renewable energy such as solar or wind.

EV batteries also can be recycled, which involves extracting raw materials including lithium, nickel and cobalt. The materials are then used to create new EV batteries.

As the mining of these materials presents both environmental and human rights issues, recycling can help to drastically reduce the need to mine new raw materials.

“The mining process and the solid waste that it produces is still a big problem,” said Jonas LaPointe, secretary of the Pioneer Valley Electric Automobile Association. “Still, dealing with the waste at a mine site is on a very different scale than global warming.”

Jessica Dunn, a senior analyst with the Union of Concerned Scientists, says that recycling is an essential strategy in sustainable, secure, and affordable electrification.

The nonprofit group stresses that it is imperative to “green” the material sourcing process to ensure a more sustainable and ethical supply chain as the world transitions to an electrified transportation system.

At present, EV battery recycling remains a complex process and is not cheap. Several companies in the U.S. and Canada are now focusing on this issue. The federal Department of Energy funding has been allocated to 10 different companies to develop new technologies and processes to reuse and recycle EV batteries.


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