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What happens to electric car batteries after they die

The earliest of electric vehicles (EV) are now starting to reach the end of their lifespan, think Nissan Leaf from 2010, meaning the huge lithium-ion batteries underneath will soon end up being repurposed, recycled, or worse, ending up on a dumpsite.

Finding a way to dispose of used batteries is a critical part of the EV product chain, as the chemicals inside them can be extremely harmful to the environment as well as catch fire easily if left unattended in harsh conditions.

The good news is that battery repurposing is a budding industry and several companies, including major manufacturers like Toyota, have found innovative ways to reuse, recycle, or dispose of the packs.


The recycling plant is currently one of the main destinations for EV batteries once they are taken off the road.

Redwood Materials in the United States is one of the most prolific recycling firms, forging partnerships with automakers including VW, Toyota, and Ford.

The organisation receives 6giga-watt hours (GWh) of second-life batteries each year – “enough to build more than 60,000 EVs,” it said – and recovers over 95% of the metals inside them including nickel, cobalt, lithium, and copper.

These materials are then used to manufacture anode and cathode components which are resupplied to battery cell manufacturers, thereby creating a “circular EV economy.”

There are many more companies like this performing the same activities, for example, Tesla, which recycles around 92% of the materials of its own batteries.

Even the US government has started getting in on recycling with its ReCell center. Though ReCell does things a little differently from Redwood by retaining the original battery’s cathode structure during the recycling procedure, thereby cutting down on energy usage and costs by over 30%.


Repurposing batteries is a whole different practice from recycling, as it involves finding a new way to implement modules that have already passed their peak states of health.

Mercedes-Benz for this reason has established its Energy subsidiary, which works in partnership with Moment Energy in Canada to install used EV batteries in commercial and industrial buildings for rechargeable, supplementary power supply.

These batteries are required to have at least 70% of their capacity when they’re removed from the vehicle.

These modules will provide power to the buildings for between seven and 10 years, and thereafter they will be recycled, too.

The Chinese EV builder BYD has also followed the repurposing route by using these components for renewable-energy storage in factories across the globe, reported Nikkei Asia.

Battery repurposing is an attractive venture as residual energy that can be drawn from “second-life batteries” is expected to grow from 7GWh in 2022 to over 276GWh by 2035, according to Bloomberg.

It can also be less complicated to implement than to establish an entire recycling chain, though the batteries will eventually need to be replaced and disposed of.

The below image showcases one of the facilities that was created in partnership with Mercedes-Benz Energy.

Times are changing

Despite several players already taking part, the second-life battery industry is still in its infancy and it’s made even more complicated, and expensive, by the fact that first-generation batteries were generally not designed to be reused or recycled.

However, this is starting to change.

GreenTechMedia reports that General Motors, the manufacturer of the infamous Chevy Bolt EV, have started producing their car batteries with the afterlife in mind.

The company has designed its new “Ultium” packs to be easier to integrate into other applications after they have been removed from the vehicle, said Dane Parker, chief sustainability officer at General Motors.

VW, too, is on a mission to have 97% of its vehicle battery components be recyclable in a few short years, up from around 50% at the moment, according to Ananta Energy Source.

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