Imagine you were alive 100 years ago when the motor car was becoming popular, would you have been amazed by such a marvellous achievement? Or, complained about the noise and pollution? Now think about the revolution taking place now with electric vehicles, should we be excited with the development of zero emissions motoring? Or, concerned about the potential environmental impacts of building more batteries?
There’s no doubt that EV batteries are made of components that consume vast amounts of energy to process, and they can be potentially harmful if not handled correctly at the end of their life. However, just as the technology is moving fast to make them smaller and more efficient, researchers are also finding alternate uses for second hand batteries and improving the recycling process.
How long will EV batteries last?
Electric vehicles have become more visible on our roads in recent years and are now regularly featured in the media. Globally, there are millions of vehicle on the road and the Nissan Leaf has been on sale in Australia for 10 years. So there’s a lot of information about battery performance in real world conditions which is indicating that the lifespan of an EV battery will be 15-20 years.
Nissan provides an eight year/160,000km State of Health guarantee on Leaf Lithium-Ion batteries sold after 2019 to protect owners from reduced battery capacity which impacts range. Other manufacturers are now providing similar warranties on the hybrid, PHEV and BEV being sold.
Giving EV batteries a second life
With EV batteries predicted to last longer than the other mechanical components in a car, can they be repurposed when the wheels fall off? Yes, and many people in Australia are adapting them for the storage of renewable energy from solar panels.
Energy usage per household varies and an average for a family is estimated at 41kWh per day. The latest version of the Tesla Powerwall which is being installed to support household solar generation has a capacity of 13.5kWh, so it can provide backup power for several hours once the sun goes down.
The earlier electric cars had 40kWh batteries and the current models are more than 70kWh. This means a repurposed EV battery could power a household for several days depending on its average energy use.
Nissan is leading the way in Australia with a project in Melbourne at their casting plant. It’s called Nissan Node and involves installing solar panels on the roof of the building which will be connected to nine repurposed Nissan Leaf batteries. The batteries will store the renewable energy to supply parts of the manufacturing process and recharge electric vehicles driven by employees.
EV battery recycling
The components (aluminium, graphite, nickel, copper, cobalt, lithium) within an electric car battery make them a very attractive product to recycle and there are many people in Australia, and globally, that are already breaking them down as part of the circular economy.
EV batteries are constructed by combing multiple cells into modules that form a battery pack. So when the performance declines, it may be because some of the cells have been damaged or deteriorated which can be replaced to create a refurbished part.
If the battery is beyond repurposing or refurbishment, then breaking it down for the individual components is commercially viable. While recycling is happening today, the large scale operations will emerge once there are more cars on the roads.