Second life of electric vehicle batteries could overload energy supply

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Responding to the need to overcharge batteries, researchers at Cornell University published a study that describes the reuse of used lithium-ion batteries from electric vehicles.

The researchers, funded in part by the United States National Foundation, studied how battery chemistry, reuse, and recycling influence the energy production and environmental impact of lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles.

Analysis found that the carbon footprint of an EV lithium-ion battery can be reduced by up to 17% if it is reused before being recycled. The study also highlights how lithium-ion (LIB) batteries are recycled. Direct cathode recycling is found to be the most effective in reducing life cycle environmental impacts, while hydrometallurgical recycling offers limited durability benefits for high performance LIBs.

The increased demand for LIB and a potential shortage of cobalt over the next 30 years necessitates the deployment of direct cathode recycling. As a result, a 95% recovery rate of active cathode materials could greatly mitigate the risk of metal depletion and relieve the metal supply pressure in the world market. Batteries with reduced energy storage capacity can be reused to store wind and solar energy. Some key information from this study shows that lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles should be manufactured for durability, not performance.

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The research team looked at the environmental and economic tradeoffs in the way batteries are built, used, and recycled. They point out that in order to recycle LIB waste, sorting should become essential to improve the environmental sustainability of LIB recycling.

Fengqi You, one of the study’s authors, said, “Lithium-ion batteries today are designed for performance and not for recycling or second life. There is very little discussion at this time about the environmental dimensions of improving the design of batteries for recycling or reuse.

Lithium-ion batteries typically last 12 years or less before losing the ability to power a vehicle. The demand for recycling facilities capable of breaking down lithium-ion batteries for electric vehicles and extracting the raw materials inside is currently outstripping supply. Due to the volume of used batteries that will have to be recycled in the years to come, this demand will only increase.

Read more: Second life and recycling: prospects for energy and environmental sustainability for high-performance lithium-ion batteries


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