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Recycling electric car batteries, an ecological issue with a circular solution

Commercial Waste Services Westminster
Commercial Waste Services Westminster

With the number of electric vehicles on the road expected to grow from 8 million in 2020 to 116 million in 2030, ensuring stable access to raw materials is a strategic challenge. According to Statista, electric vehicle sales are climbing by around 140% year on year.

Materials used today in EV batteries are not always recovered at their maximum value. These are much more difficult to recycle than traditional lead-acid batteries due to their make-up of hundreds of lithium cells, requiring dedicated expertise to treat. Many of the materials required for battery manufacturing rely on traditional water and energy-intensive processes. It is estimated that 500,000 gallons of water are required to extract one tonne of lithium using this type of mining. Urban mining or the use of recycled materials could reduce water consumption as well as cutting greenhouse gas emissions from battery production by up to 50%.

For more information around recovering materials, read our guide on the circular economy.

Recycling electric vehicle batteries across the globe

Batteries are dismantled and undergo a combination of mechanical and hydrometallurgical processes to make it possible to treat the active cells and extract the active metals. These metals are then used by industry and transformed into new materials, setting a precedent for how used batteries can contribute to a circular economy.

Presence in the United Kingdom

Veolia’s new facility in Minworth, West Midlands marks the first step in developing recycling technology and treatment capacity within the UK. With an anticipated 350,000 tonnes of end-of-life electric vehicle batteries predicted to be in the country by 2040, the innovation becomes essential to the future of transportation and resource security on a whole. For this recycling process, the plant initially discharges the electrical energy from the battery to 0 volts and dismantles batteries into smaller modules and cells before the mechanical and chemical separation recycling processes are carried out, enabling the materials found within EV batteries to be reused. Innovation is constant across the Veolia facilities, and the plans for Minworth do not stray from this. For now, the future of Minworth looks toward shipping the extracted cells and modules to our colleagues in France for carbon, water and financial benefits, as well as recycling the plastic and metal elements within the UK and additionally, looking to introduce a battery shredding capability on-site to provide an all-round facility.

There has been a lot of progress in recycling batteries but only through the continued development of new technologies will we be able to meet evolving recycling and recovering needs.

For more information on closed-loop recycling and how you can help, download our circular economy guide.

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