Some fine day, as second- and third-generation EVs take over the roads, there will be loads of used lithium-ion batteries kicking around. According to a new report by the Mineta National Transit Research Consortium (MNTRC), by 2035 there will be between 1.3 million and 6.7 million post-vehicle batteries across the US, “enough batteries to justify remanufacturing, repurposing, and recycling efforts.”
“Lithium-ion batteries provide efficient energy storage and their use in vehicles will continue to expand,” says Dr Charles Standridge, who led the research project. Once these batteries have lived out their roughly 10-year useful lives on the road, some 85% could be suitable for reuse in post-vehicle applications while the remaining 15% will be damaged beyond repair.
The MNTRC’s research indicates that recycling in isolation is not profitable, as lithium-ion batteries are composed of relatively inexpensive materials. Even with technological breakthroughs, recycling could yield a mere 20% recovery of battery cost.
However, remanufacturing for reuse in vehicles “shows promise,” as damaged cells can be replaced, avoiding the cost of producing new batteries. As yet, no facilities for large-scale remanufacturing of Li-ion batteries are available (Tesla hopes to get into this at its Gigafactory).
The MNTRC’s report found that the “less well-defined application area” of repurposing (perhaps for stationary storage for renewable energy applications) would be profitable if the development cost is no higher than $83-114 per kWh. The analysis is based on a repurposing plant costing $30 million, with a capacity of 5,000 units in the first year.