With more power packs expected to be installed in electric
vehicles (EVs) this year than in consumer electronics, according to
Bloomberg NEF (BNEF), the issue of recycling and reusing their
batteries is a major topic for the automotive industry.
BNEF predicts that sales of EVs will increase from a record of
1.1m worldwide in 2017 to 11m in 2025. More EVs on the roads
obviously means more batteries in circulation – and more
decisions about what to do with them to remain sustainable as the
first ones reach the end of their life.
Berenberg Thematics estimates that by 2022 as many as 262,000
tonnes of automotive lithium-ion batteries will need to be
recycled. Yet less than 5% of lithium batteries are currently
Vehicle-makers, battery manufacturers and logistics companies
are all being challenged to come up with solutions to safely reuse
and recycle these batteries at the end of their life, but there is
no easy answer.
As lithium batteries are considered
hazardous waste, it is expensive to dispose of them and also
poses serious concerns for the environment. That is why recycling
and reusing batteries are priorities for carmakers and battery
But EV battery recycling and battery reuse pose two different
sets of challenges, explains Steve Christensen, executive director
of the Responsible Battery Coalition, a coalition of companies,
academics and organisations committed to the responsible management
“Recycling challenges are primarily driven by battery
technology and chemistry, which dictate the type and amount of
materials that will be recycled,” explains Christensen. “These
challenges vary depending on the type of recycling methods used,
and those methods themselves are evolving.”
But the challenges
posed by battery re-use are more complex, he continues. “Legal
liability issues aside, battery design, chemistry and age all play
a major role in determining the next use, if any, of the
Lithium batteries can retain 50-70% of their power capacity when
removed, as well as discharge electricity for another seven to ten
years, which makes reusing them seem like a viable option.
A common use case is the storage of electricity, for example in
As batteries still have a large proportion of their original
capacity after being used in cars, and as OEMs are obliged by law
to take back energy carriers after they have been used in cars,
Audi is investigating how batteries in e-tron test vehicles and the
A3 e-tron and Q7 e-tron hybrid models can continue to be used.
“For environmental reasons, we want to give batteries second
lives instead of recycling them,” says Alexander Kupfer, who is
responsible for sustainable product development/circular economy at
Audi. “The challenge is to develop a common connection interface
through which these automotive batteries can be controlled by a
stationary storage management system. This kind of interface must
provide the battery function in a safe way and a simple
battery-independent communication with storage control. This
interface needs to be developed together with storage suppliers.
The goal is to achieve the low-cost integration of automotive
batteries in storage systems by maintaining a high standard of
“Audi is looking at how it can convert old batteries into
stationary energy storage units. Battery modules could be
conceivably reused in mobile charging containers for electric
vehicles or in stationary energy storage systems,” says
Audi also arranges for returned batteries from the plug-in
hybrid models and the pre-series e-tron to be recycled by various
specialist companies in accordance with the relevant legal
requirements in the markets.
“Currently we are cooperating on research with Umicore to
develop a closed-loop process for elements applied in high-voltage
batteries, such as cobalt, nickel and copper, which can be used
again and again,” says Kupfer. “Particularly valuable materials
are to be made available from a raw materials bank. In addition to
sustainability, this will enable us to pursue the goals of supply
security and shorter journeys.”
One of the key challenges of
reuse is in the collection and transport of retired vehicle
batteries. The regulations surrounding the transport of such
hazardous materials are complex and vary from country to
“Each market and country has its own regulations; most are in
the early stages and will probably continue to evolve as the EV
market grows,” says Christensen. “China is probably the
furthest along in setting standards for recyclability, traceability
and manufacturing. The EU uses extended producer responsibility
programmes to ensure that the producer or primary user of the
battery, typically a vehicle manufacturer, is responsible for the
proper recycling of the battery.
“The US has what some might view as the least restrictive laws
on EV battery disposal, but the battery and vehicle manufacturers
all have programmes to manage batteries for end-of-life.”
The mission of the Responsible Battery Coalition (RBC) is to
define and promote best practice for managing a vehicle battery
throughout its lifecycle. This includes end-of-life practices such
as reuse and recycling.
The RBC’s members include vehicle-makers Ford and Honda North
America, as well as the largest battery manufacturer and recycler
in the world, Johnson Controls.
Together with its other members and partners, the coalition is
working on several projects that will help to manage the reuse and
recycling of EV batteries.
“We’ve been collaborating with the University of Michigan
Center for Sustainable Systems in developing a set of green
principles that determine the environmental profile of a battery,
from its original design through to its second use and/or
recycling,” explains RBC executive director Steve Christensen.
“These principles will help determine the best methods for
creating a battery initially and for recycling different battery
technologies, to ensure each one has the best environmental profile
“Additionally, we are working with our partners at The
Sustainability Consortium to determine the key performance
indicators to be used in facilitating commercial practices, from
materials sourcing to recycling. By meeting these performance
indicators, a battery will gain commercial preference through the
In the EU, Battery Directive regulations state that EV
manufacturers are classified as battery producers and makes them
responsible for the collection, treatment and recycling of waste or
damaged vehicle batteries. The International Carriage of Dangerous
Goods by Road (ADR) agreement, meanwhile, requires damaged or
defective lithium battery packs to be transported in
explosion-proof steel containers approved by the EU.
There are currently no global standards in place, however, and
nor does it appear that anybody is working on
“China probably has the most standards, while the US has the
least, but both countries have approximately the same recycling
rates for EV batteries,” says Christensen. “To date, we are not
aware of any joint conventions between markets that create a set of
standards for recycling EV batteries.”
From a logistics point of view,
transporting lithium batteries when they are no longer in pristine
condition can cause further problems as when damaged they carry the
risk of toxic discharge.
According to Achim Glass, senior vice-president and global head
of automotive vertical at Kuehne and Nagel Management, damaged EV
batteries need to be classified by the shipper as either ‘damaged
but not critical’ or ‘damaged and critical’.
“The differentiation must be determined based on a scientific
examination of the battery, such as reading the battery
protocol,” he says.
Glass says that, depending on the classification – which
cannot be done by the logistics service provider – one of two
different supply chain solutions is required.
“The ‘damaged but not critical’ battery pack must be
transported in a UN-approved container, including packaging
material that prevents the evolution of heat,” he explains.
“The ‘damaged and critical’ battery requires a special steel
container for transportation, which includes a built-in fire
extinguishing system. To uninstall the battery from the vehicle and
to package the battery into the container, you need a certified
high-voltage expert present, as the energy density is so high and
the battery could spontaneously combust, resulting in an immediate
fire. In both scenarios, the container or package must be labelled
with the UN class 9 label for lithium-ion batteries and a UN
Material Data Safety Sheet must also be filled out.
Cross-border transport of lithium batteries is a particularly
complex operation, requiring a fully documented recycling
With this in mind, environmental services provider Interseroh
and waste management service provider Saubermacher have created
what they say is the first global recycling service for lithium-ion
batteries, known as SimpLi Return, which provides all services
along the entire waste management chain.
The online portal centralises all data and documentation, giving
companies the ability to follow their batteries step by step on
their recycling journey. Special containers for safe transport are
also provided, and batteries are packaged onsite.
“The availability of special steel containers for critical
batteries is limited and the asset is up to ten times more
expensive compared to the non-critical package,” continues Glass.
“The transport available to move the critical battery is also
limited and comparatively expensive, as legislation requires a
special vehicle with special equipment and specially-trained
drivers. In both cases, transport is subject to the respective
dangerous goods regulations.”
If the critical battery is also classified as end-of-life (as
opposed to second-life), the transport is subject to waste
regulation, which requires the availability of respective licences
and, in certain cases, the approval of the relevant authorities.
This includes specifying which routes can be used.
“Kuehne and Nagel has valid waste transport brokerage licences
for over 20 European countries, which is important as there is very
limited capacity for the recycling of lithium-ion batteries,”
comments Glass. “That, again, results in a lot of cross-border
trucking activities. National trucking companies often do not have
the licence to operate in another country, and violations against
waste regulations are subject to high penalties and fines.”
Storage and recycling facilities
Setting up a network of storage and recycling facilities would seem
like the most efficient way to manage lithium batteries once they
have been removed from vehicles, due to the restrictions on
transporting them via air or sea.
“Damaged batteries are prohibited on aircraft,” confirms
Glass. “[They] can be transported by sea, but that solution is
subject to many challenges and bears a high risk that there won’t
be available transport capacity. Therefore, damaged batteries
should be collected and transported on wheels to the research
centre or recycling plant.”
Glass says that, as the issue of transporting these batteries
is complicated, batteries should be collected in proximity to the
recycling plant. However, that is often not possible.
“It is also difficult to temporarily store used batteries to
then dispatch full truckloads from a certain territory to the
recycling plant,” says Glass. “Storage facilities are available
but with limited space. Costs are very high, due to adherence to
dangerous goods regulations.
He points out that a used EV battery can have a selling price of
up to €6,000 ($6,800), which the recycler pays to the owner of
the battery. “Hence, putting batteries into a warehouse is the
equivalent to binding capital.”
One solution is for carmakers,
battery manufacturers and logistics and packaging providers to work
much more closely together to ensure that batteries can be more
smoothly dismantled and transported to the relevant
Due to heavy pollution in the country, as well as the value of
recycling and reusing lithium batteries, China released guidelines
in 2018 to help build a system to facilitate this.
The guidelines suggest that carmakers should build up a network
that can collect used and retired EV batteries and transport them
to companies which can process and recycle them. To enable
batteries to be more easily reused, the battery manufacturers
should implement standardised and easy-to-dismantle designs, as
well as providing information and training to vehicle-makers on how
to dismantle and store them. The idea is to enable better
collaboration and cooperation between all the companies involved in
China is also assigning IDs to all lithium batteries used in
EVs, which will help companies to track and plan battery reuse or
Daniel Lenz, who like Kupfer is responsible for sustainable
product development/circular economy at Audi, believes these kinds
of recyclable packaging and collection systems are necessary as
part of a functioning circular economy.
“This will require us to build up a network of partners
comprising logistics and recycling companies as well as
automakers,” says Lenz. “This will make recycling and disposal
more sustainable while cutting costs at the same time. One example
of a possible approach would be to standardise transport boxes and
systems across all manufacturers so as to achieve greater packing
efficiency and simplify handling.”
When it comes to what to do with lithium batteries in EVs when
they reach the end of their life, Daimler focuses on four key
areas: reuse; repair; remanufacturing – dismantling the battery,
sorting and checking its parts and exchanging components where
necessary, then rebuilding it; and ‘remat’ – the recovery and
recycling of valuable materials in the battery.
In terms of reuse, Daimler has established a wholly-owned
subsidiary called Mercedes-Benz Energy to focus on reusing parts
for stationary energy storage units.
According to a spokesperson, stationary applications are not
susceptible to minor power losses, which means that economical
stationary operation is possible for at least ten more years.
Reusing the lithium-ion modules in this way almost doubles their
The first of its second-life battery storage systems was
launched in October 2016 at the company’s main Remondis site in
Westphalia, Germany. Around 1,000 used battery systems from
second-generation battery-electric vehicles have been combined to
create a stationary storage facility that is available to the
German primary regulation energy market.
Even battery systems that have not yet been used in electric
cars and are instead stored as spare parts can double up as energy
Another large storage device comprising battery modules for
electric mobility went into operation in southern Westphalia, in
Germany, in June 2018. There, some 1,920 battery modules are stored
as a ‘living spare parts depot’.
These modules, with an installed output of 8.96MW and an energy
capacity of 9.8MWh, are available to the energy market as battery
storage devices, for providing primary control power among other
Source: FS – Transport B.
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