At the ICT Spring Conference held in Meriden earlier this year, I gave a presentation on the re-use and recycling opportunities for electric vehicle batteries. While it was not directly related to printed circuit boards, the implications and challenges of producing high performance control and monitoring circuitry that can be built into the expensive and complex battery assemblies are clear; batteries must perform reliably and optimally in harsh environments for many years. This article builds on one aspect of my Meriden presentation and it covers the possibility of using end of first life electric vehicle batteries in secondary applications before they are recycled.
In the relatively recent past, the commoditisation and rapid performance evolution of many electronic products, such as mobile phones, meant that huge quantities of perfectly functional devices ended up being discarded, often finding their way to landfill. This was clearly not sustainable and caused both environmental issues and a loss of valuable raw materials. The problem of what to do with end of life electronic and electrical equipment was soon recognised and resulted in the introduction of legislation such as the European Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive. The WEEE Directive, and similar legislation implemented by many countries around the world, has attempted to address the problem by setting targets for the collection, recovery and recycling of waste electrical and electronic equipment and diverting it from landfill to recycling. The legislation also makes the original producers responsible for their products when they enter the waste stream.
The large-scale expansion of electric transport in the UK over the next twenty years is now a given, since it is mandated by legislation aimed at addressing global warming via a 2050 net zero greenhouse gas emission target. By 2035, and possibly sooner, the sale of internal combustion engine powered vehicles will be proscribed, with all new vehicles sold beyond that point, whether they are fully electric or hybrids, having a battery. There are various predictions about the number of EVs that will actually be in use, but the total will be large. For example, estimates by National Grid give a range of between 2.7 and 10.6 million by 2030 and as many as 36 million by 2040.
The transition to electric transport is being driven by the need to address important issues such as global warming. Consequently, it is vital that the maximum benefits of battery propulsion are utilised and that includes optimising activities throughout the whole life cycle of the batteries used in electric vehicles. From a sustainability perspective, one key contribution can be made by extracting as much use as possible from an EV battery before it reaches the end of its life and is recycled to make new batteries. This makes even more sense when the numbers of batteries becoming available is taken into account. It has been predicted that even by as soon as 2025 there will be around 3.4 million of these batteries available globally, and that by 2040 there will be approximately 560 million electric vehicles in existence.
HSSMI, leader of the VALUABLE project, has published a report on strategies for end of life battery recovery and why it is important to create a sustainable battery supply chain. The report is downloadable from their website (link at the bottom of the article).
The increased pressure to move away from fossil fuels and internal combustion engines is driving the mass introduction of electric vehicles (EV) and their associated, predominantly lithium-ion, batteries (LIBs). Due to their hazardous nature, batteries pose a challenge when they reach their end of life (EoL). With around 6 million batteries expected to retire from EVs globally in 2030, Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) must act sooner rather than later in preparation for this wave of responsibility. Nevertheless, as EV LIBs will retire from transport applications when they reach 70-80% capacity, there is still a tremendous opportunity for OEMs to cascade this value into new functions and eventually recover the valuable materials these batteries are made from.