According to an article in Forbes, it seems that when EVs come to their end of life, most of the batteries remain in the vehicles and that ‘automotive industry initiatives to recycle the lithium-ion cells in EV batteries are slow to go mainstream in Europe and the US.’
Earlier this year, at the Stockholm launch of the Japan-built Nissan Ariya electric crossover, Nic Thomas, UK marketing director for Nissan, said, “Almost all of the [electric car] batteries we’ve ever made are still in cars.” He added, “And we’ve been selling electric cars for 12 years.”
According to the article, most manufacturers offer battery warranties of seven or eight years or around 100,000 miles of driving, but there’s an industry expectation that EV batteries will last longer than that; they should outlive the cars themselves.
EV batteries consist of more than 2,000 individual lithium-ion cells working together. Battery management systems, or BMS, allow the cells to be gently topped up, preserving efficiency and life; EV lithium-ion batteries live much longer than lithium-ion phone or laptop batteries which sport less sophisticated BMS.
Thomas, who recently moved back to the UK after working in Japan, where he led Nissan’s global EV business, stressed: “We haven’t got a great big stock of batteries that we can convert into something else.” He added: “It’s the complete opposite of what people feared when we first launched EVs—that the batteries would only last a short time.”
He said: “At the end of the vehicle’s life—15 or 20 years down the road—you take the battery out of the car, and it’s still healthy, with perhaps 60 or 70% of usable charge.” Thomas added: “Taking the battery out [of an electric car] and putting a new battery in is not a viable proposition. It’s more sustainable to take the battery pack out of the car after 20 years, recycle the car, and reuse the battery.”
A relatively small number of Nissan Leaf batteries have been collected by the company from crashed vehicles or after warranty issues—and supplied some to provide backup power to the Johan Cruijff Arena in Amsterdam, home to Ajax Football Club, where the arena’s roof has 4,200 solar panels, with the resulting electricity stored in the equivalent of 148 Nissan Leaf batteries.
Other Leaf batteries will be dismantled and reused in consumer-level portable energy storage packs “when we’ve got some batteries to go into them,” said Thomas.
“But by far the easiest thing to do is take the complete battery out of the vehicle, put it in a shipping container in a rack and plug that into a solar farm,” added Thomas.
Such reuse is common in Japan, and is ramping up in the UK. Thomas said that Nissan’s new billion-dollar gigawatt factory Sunderland plant will use EV batteries to store energy from solar panels and three wind turbines.
“The building will use a mixture of new and used batteries, and we’ll keep adding used batteries as they come available,” he said, stressing that Nissan doesn’t own the batteries in its customers’ cars.
“[The batteries] don’t belong to us; we need to support our customers finding the right things to do with them.”
In the meantime, automotive companies are working on improving battery efficiencies. Nissan is hoping to equip its cars with “all-solid-state batteries (ASSB)” by 2028 and could open a plant next year in Japan making the new technology. Solid-state batteries promise to charge faster, hold more power, and could last longer than lithium-ion batteries, according to the article.
In time, these batteries will need to be repurposed and then recycled, and given the worldwide uptake of EVs is set to accelerate, reuse and recycling of EV batteries will soon become the norm, Thomas said, “I’ll be very old and very retired by the time we actually need to do a lot of these things.”