Reuters reports there is little existing U.S. recycling capacity for electric vehicle (EV) batteries, and virtually none in Europe.
Today, anywhere up to 30% of Europe’s internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles disappear overseas to new owners in developing countries, or for scrap, Reuters found. Some automakers are trying to figure out how to keep tabs on recyclable EVs.
Nearly 300,000 new EVs were sold in the U.S. in Q2, a record for any quarter and an increase of 48.4% from Q2 2022, according to Cox Automotive. And in June, the average price paid for an EV was down nearly 20% year-over-year.
OEMs are “all over the board” on storage from some having a process in place through their dealer networks to wanting them recycled, and some not providing any guidance, according to I-CAR Repairability Technical Support and OEM Technical Relations Manager Scott VanHulle.
For example, Reuters says Nissan has turned to leasing EVs in Japan to maintain control of its batteries and BMW hopes something can be done to keep batteries from being sold abroad, perhaps with the increase in the value of battery materials making recycling a more attractive option.
EV automaker Rivian said during the 2021 SEMA Show they want damaged high-voltage components and battery packs from total loss vehicles to be given back to them so they can be properly recycled. Lucid, at that time, said they planned to keep track of battery packs that are put back into its fleet.
Toyota announced last year that it plans to have the means to recycle its hybrid vehicle batteries into raw materials to reuse as part of its goal to reach carbon neutrality by 2050.
After a collision, insurers may declare an EV a total loss with a scratch on the battery. Battery packs can cost tens of thousands of dollars and represent up to 50% of an EV’s price tag, often making it uneconomical to replace them, according to Reuters.
Shops that repair or remove EV batteries for any reason need to keep in mind that every step must be done following closely to OEM procedures in safe handling or there is great risk of injury or death. It’s also important to properly store the batteries inside in a temperature-controlled area with a ventilation system to prevent fire and explosion.
According to findings released in a CCC Intelligent Solutions trends report, carriers need to understand that EVs and ICE vehicles are different and should be underwritten as such, including towing, storage, charging, battery maintenance, and labor and parts cost.
“The addition of ‘small batch’ EV models — each with their own unique parts and systems — might require a more thoughtful approach when it comes to assessing EV risk, determining coverage, managing claims, and underwriting policies based on limited historic data, and could also present even bigger challenges that impact an already strained collision repair industry,” the report states.
CCC Industry Analytics Director Kyle Krumlauf told Repairer Driven News the availability of EV parts is limited because the number of vehicle models and manufacturers continues to increase while, at the same time, non-OEM options such as aftermarket or recycled parts can be limited or non-existent.
While a possible solution for buses, trucks and other commercial vehicles, it will take longer for batteries from passenger cars to be reused at scale, Reuters reports.
The rising average age of ICE vehicles on the road — now at 12.5 years in the U.S., according to S&P Global Mobility — could mean many EVs will stay on the road after their batteries are depleted.
“The assumption that EV batteries are only going to last eight-to-10 years and then owners will swap them out is just not true,” Hans Eric Melin told Reuters. He is the founder of Circular Energy Storage (CES), which tracks battery volumes and prices.
“It’s going to be tricky to make second-life work,” he said.
Safe recycling of lithium-ion batteries, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “conserves the critical minerals and other valuable materials that are used in batteries and is a more sustainable approach than disposal.”
“In all cases, batteries then need to be identified and sorted for proper recycling and may change hands several times in the process, getting shipped to other collection facilities before arriving at a facility that can process them,” the EPA says. “Larger battery packs, such as those from electric vehicles, could be partially disassembled at any time in this process into cells or modules to make transportation, storage, and processing easier.”
Some companies are experimenting with repurposing used EV batteries to store excess electricity generated by solar panels, according to the EPA.
“The big question is, if you have pretty valuable raw materials in a battery and you ask, ‘How can I get the most out of it?’ The answer is recycling might be better,” Thomas Becker, head of sustainability at BMW, told Reuters.
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