What is a second life for electric car batteries?

Peter Burgess 4 NOVEMBER 2021

There are two big questions when it comes to electric car batteries: how long will they last, and what happens to them when they are replaced? We answer the first point here and the second one below.

So, what use is that large lump of lithium-ion cells when it no longer offers enough useful range? Plenty of use, actually…

The second life for batteries

There are genuine opportunities to make use of batteries that have had their day powering an electric car.

By this stage, perhaps a decade down the line, their capacity may be depleted by 30 percent. It’s around this point that loss of mileage can become an issue.

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In a less demanding environment, however, these batteries still offer plenty of potential. For example, they could store the energy produced by solar panels during the daytime, allowing it to be used at night – perhaps even to recharge an electric car.

That idea works equally well in a house as a commercial building or hospital. It seems like a great solution, encompassing both recycling and storage of electrical energy. But it will take work to implement on a grand scale.

Batteries from electric cars vary in their design and chemistry, so considerable effort is required to refurbish them before they can be used for power storage.

Most car manufacturers have established links with companies that can move this idea forward. It’s likely you will find all Renault EV batteries go to one source, Honda EV batteries to another, and so on.

Then there’s the familiar issue with falling costs of technology. New batteries will get cheaper and the cost differential between new and used will diminish. If new batteries reach a point where there’s no financial advantage to using a recycled battery with diminished capacity, enthusiasm will wane.

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The story is even more complex than this, including an estimate that, by 2030, we could have all the electric storage capacity we’re likely to need. So what then?

Recycling is not your problem…

Back in 2006, an EU directive mandated that at least 50 percent of the materials in used batteries had to be recycled, and that battery manufacturers were responsible for carrying this out. This means the burden falls upon the makers of electric cars.

Recycling EV batteries is a complicated and expensive process. Even so, the reuse of cobalt, lithium and other materials – not least for new car batteries – makes much sense. With the whole world now aware of the importance of conserving natural resources, recycling has become second nature to most of us.