Ken Byng, Senior Manager at CarTakeBack, the largest scrap car recycling network in the UK, provides us with his thoughts on being ELEV ready and the challenges the vehicle recycling industry are faced with when it comes to end of life electric vehicle processing.
Anyone with even a passing interest in the news can’t fail to have noticed the exponential growth in sales of electric and hybrid electric vehicles in the past few years. In fact, according to SMMT’s statistics, EVs actually outsold Diesel-powered vehicles for the first time in April of this year. With EVs set to become more affordable due to ‘budget’ OEMs successfully entering the EV arena and disrupting the market (and even Tesla announcing the introduction of their ‘£20k’ EV in the next 3 years), and with the recently announced acceleration of the move to zero-emission car sales by UK Government from 2040 to 2035 (and even a rumoured further acceleration to 2030), there can be no doubt that this sector-bucking growth will continue apace into the future.
For our industry, the rising numbers of EVs on UK roads is going to provide something of a challenge once they reach their end of life. As many ATFs know only too well, earlier hybrid electric vehicles have been cropping up as low-volume ELVs for several years now, in particular, cars such as the Toyota Prius with their Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH) battery packs. Although newer EVs with their lithium-ion (li-ion) battery packs are a rarer and more complex prospect for most ATFs at the moment other than the odd ‘premature’ ELV (usually arising thanks to insurance companies writing off damaged ones as total loss), it is only a matter of time before we start to see volumes entering ELV streams at their ‘natural’ end of life. Currently, the scale of the problem is obscured by the fact that there is a thriving resale market for EV components – including li-ion batteries – meaning that even those ELEV arisings where the vehicles are in very poor shape are generally worth money to someone, somewhere. At some point, however, even this market will reach its saturation point, and it is then that we will start to see the true situation, with unwanted ELEVs becoming a burden as opposed to a commodity.
Most ATFs will hopefully be aware that there are serious safety risks associated with handling EVs and their batteries, such as the obvious high voltages present, the potential for fire and even explosion amongst others. Whilst it is critical that these risks are properly considered and mitigated even before the ELEV is collected or delivered into the yard, the magnitude of the challenge facing us as an industry is greater and wider even than the safety of our colleagues. For example, due to no mainstream EVs existing when either document was written, there are gaps in the existing Waste Battery & Accumulator Regulations and the ELV Regulations, with neither really reflecting where we are now and where we need to be in the future. Whilst these are in the process of being reviewed, we are unlikely to see fresh sets of regulations for quite some time.
Another major issue we face is the current costs attached to recycling li-ion batteries (as opposed to them having value like NiMH batteries), exacerbated by the lack of UK based lithium-ion EV battery recycling facility. Any batteries which are unfit for second life purposes must currently be exported to mainland Europe for recycling – an expensive and complex operation even now, but once the ‘post-Brexit’ arrangements are introduced, it is unlikely that things will get any easier – or cheaper!
However, what is not so well reported is how our fast-moving and innovative UK ELV and recycling industry is proactively striving to overcome these issues and turn challenges into opportunities. At CarTakeBack, we have been working hard over the past few years to help make sure our ATF partners are ‘ELEV ready’, through such initiatives as:
- in partnership with the British Metals Recycling Association (BMRA), developing our own ELEV safe handling training for any ATF associated with CarTakeBack or holding BMRA membership;
- sitting on several research and innovations boards and proactively contributing to ground-breaking Faraday Institute research into everything from ensuring EVs and batteries are designed with the dismantler in mind, to developing a UK based li-ion EV battery recycling facility;
- exploring sustainable new value streams for ELEV components and batteries into the future.
If you are interested in what CarTakeBack is doing and would like to join our network, or if you would like to attend one of our BMRA ELEV safe handling days, please do get in touch.