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NAATBatt Notes: Lithium-ion batteries are being reused, not scrapped

Toronto, Ontario –  While lithium-ion batteries have touted a bad rap for allegedly being tossed in landfills or poorly recycled, they actually boast some of the longest lifetimes and highest reuse rates, Hans Eric Melin, managing director of Circular Energy Storage said during a panel at NAATBatt International 2021.

In most consumers’ minds, a vehicle creeps closer to end-of-life as it ages in model years. When the vehicle is scrapped, the lithium-ion battery is often believed to be tossed along with it. According to Melin’s data on Toyota Prius, Nissan Leaf and Tesla Model S units, a vehicle has roughly the same likelihood of being scrapped at any point in its lifetime as it does at an older age.

“Cars do not reach end of life as they age; they reach end-of-life when it is no longer economical to keep the car. There is a common belief that EV batteries last five to eight years,” said Melin. “None of these estimates have been proven correct.”

Rather than being scrapped alongside EVs, Melin suggested other global markets repurposing these recycled batteries, leaving little for other countries to conquer.

“Many cars that reach end-of-life in North America and in Western Europe will be acquired by importers in countries where repairs are cheaper and where the cars can be placed on the market again.”

According to Melin’s data, you will find more older-year Nissan Leaf models in Russia and Ukraine than in countries like the U.S., U.K., Germany or Norway, despite the fact the cars were likely originally sold in these countries.

“This is the main reason we haven’t recycled more lithium-ion batteries in Europe and North America—not that we are landfilling them.”

Melin said there are only two studies globally that focus on whether lithium-ion batteries are ending up in the wrong places.

One study estimates that between 600 and 2,600 tonnes of lithium-ion batteries could end up in the U.S. Municipal Waste Stream. The same study estimates that lead-acid batteries are eight times more misplaced than lithium-ion ones.

Last year, about 210,000 tonnes of lithium-ion battery sales were available for recycling across the world, said Melin, assuming those batteries were ultimately recycled.

“I don’t think anyone needs to worry about lithium-ion batteries being landfill,” he said. “At today’s prices, a recycler could theoretically obtain around eight dollars a kilo for cells; how much of that value they retain depends on the efficiency of the process.”

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