In 2017, 777,000 NEVs were sold in China, up 53.3 per cent year-on-year, according to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers (CAAM).
This growth was 0.3 percentage points faster compared to 2016, when China sold more NEVs than anywhere else for a second year. Making the stock of new energy vehicles the world’s largest, with 1.53 million by the end of 2017.
12,000 tonnes of car batteries needed recycling in 2016 according to Shenzhen Gaogong Industry Research Co Ltd, in 2016. 248,000 tonnes of car batteries to be recycled is expected by 2020.
But what are the challenges that China face? According to Zhang Zheming, assistant researcher with Shenzhen Institutes of Advanced Technology, he warned that the used batteries pose hazards if mishandled.
“If car batteries are not properly handled they may explode. Acidic substances that are needed to process the batteries are also hazardous to humans and may pollute air and soil,” Zhang said.
“On the whole, China’s battery recycling industry has not developed in tandem with the auto industry”, said Zhang Changling, senior engineer of China Automotive Technology And Research Center.
“Many recycling companies are still using old ways, like taking down the parts manually, which have great security and environment risks,” Zhang Changling said. “Certified recyclers are still lacking.”
“We need to prevent the used batteries to be randomly sent to the scrap-yard or uncertified recycling firms that simply take them apart and re-sell,” he said.
Meanwhile, industrial standards regarding transportation of the car batteries are still baffling, Bai Min said.
“If car batteries are transported by regular vehicles, the transportation cost is around 30 per cent of the total recycling cost. But if the batteries are considered dangerous waste, and transported by special vehicles with special permits, the costs will be doubled.”
“How the government regulates the transportation and storage of used batteries will greatly impact the industry of recycling. So far, the details are not yet hammered out,” Bai said.
What needs to be done?
In 2016, the State Council said electric car makers should be responsible for building a recycling network for used batteries, and use an aftermarket network to recycle used batteries.
Zhang Zheming said experts are calling for professional firms to deal with car battery recycling. “It will be great waste if each company builds its own recycling system,” said Zhang Zheming.
China has offered tax exemptions and discounts for new energy vehicle purchases, and ordered government organisations to buy more new energy cars.
The government expects new energy vehicle output and sales to hit 2 million annually by 2020, and overall auto output to reach around 30 million by 2020 and 35 million by 2025.
Experts said the sharp expansion would lead to massive amounts of scrapped batteries and the recycling industry needs to keep up. “We should establish a tracing system for the batteries and increase crackdowns on improper recycling behaviors,” said Ge Jianping, assistant professor with China University of Geosciences.