Material Scientist Ponder What to Do With Used EV Batteries 

As electric vehicles become mainstream, mechanical engineers and chemical engineers are trying to address the big environmental question: what do we do with the used lithium-ion batteries?

The batteries used in electric cars are physically large, last 8 to 10 years, and will account for 90 per cent of the lithium-ion battery market by 2025.  This will increase lithium demand fourfold, and more than double the demand for cobalt — two of their essential elements.  The price of cobalt has already risen by more than 80 per cent in 2018.  

Most expert Material Scientists agree that a replacement hybrid car battery can range from $1,000 to more than $6,000.  The price is dependent upon the year and model of car, and should include dealership labor costs.  While this may seem like a big expense, car makers are set on reducing prices.  Tesla has begun a recycling process with Umicore, and this is the first time we are seeing a closed loop recycling system.  Umicore’s factory plants are able to recycle our batteries into completely reusable materials and substantially reduce the carbon footprint of manufacturing Lithium-ion batteries.  

Engineering Teams Worry About Battery Waste Disposal

Electric cars in the world passed the 2,000,000 mark last year. The International Energy Agency estimates there will be 140,000,000 electric cars globally by 2030 if countries meet the Paris climate agreement targets.  Electric vehicle could leave 11,000,000 tons of spent lithium-ion batteries in need of recycling between now and 2030. 

Car producers will be accountable for the collection and recycling of spent lithium-ion batteries.  Given their sheer size, batteries cannot be stored at home and landfilling is not an option.  Many countries have made sellers of Electric Vehicles responsible for recycling EV batteries for further purpose, and they are not ending up in landfills. 

One company will upcycle used lithium-ion batteries for home energy use, rather than recycle.  Oregon-based OnTo Technology aims to enter this upcycle battery market by employing mechanical engineers and materials scientists to utilize electrode materials directly from spent batteries.  This would be in lieu of breaking down the individual battery components. 

The lack of recycling capacity is a tragedy.    In the future, it could take more energy to extract lithium from the ground than it would save on energy conservation . If we don’t re-use them, we could be making our environmental problems worse.  One company is devising a technology using a chemical process to retrieve all of the important metals from batteries.

In the future, it would be wise to have standard size/type of batteries and designed them also for recycling. Unfortunately, at this time they are not.

Electric-Car Batteries: What Will Happen To Them After Coming Out Of The Car?

A new report from the Mineta Transportation Institute at San Jose State University in California suggests that in 20 years, there may be 1.3 million to 6.7 million used battery packs from electric cars.  Roughly 85 percent of those batteries could be suitable for “post-vehicle use,” with the remaining 15 percent likely damaged beyond repair.

Every maker of plug-in electric cars is designing programs to take back used or damaged battery packs.  Some of them will see the value in repairing them,  replacing defective modules and putting them back into stock as remanufactured parts, while others may set up separate businesses to sell them for secondary uses.


Battery size standards, environmental laws, recycling initiatives, and technology improvements are needed to shape the Electric Vehicle industry.