Are there any existing procedures for the recycling of electric vehicle car batteries, and if so what are they? In particular I'm interested in those used in the Volkswagen E-Golf, though general information is appreciated too.


Li-Ion batteries are worth recycling just for the lithium in them. This material can be re-refined, and made into new batteries. In this use they should show similar cost savings to recycled vs new aluminum.

There is also the prospect of repurposing a worn battery for stationary use. E.g. It stores 30 kWh in your car for 3 years, then stores 10 kWh in your house for the next 3-10 years. One source I read proposed that the used battery market would help older EV's hold value.

Edit: I'm wrong. See https://waste-management-world.com/a/1-the-lithium-battery-recycling-challenge

Summary: At present recycling lithium from batteries costs about 5 times the cost of mined lithium. However the cost of the lithium is only about 3% of the cost of the battery. So the price of lithium rising by a factor of 5 would make recycled Li economical, and would raise the price of making batteries by about 12%

  • 1
    Do you have any references for the cost aspect? I've read somewhere that recycling Li-ion isn't economically worthwhile. – THelper Nov 17 '17 at 6:35
  • Also curious if anyone does it, whether it's economically worthwhile or not. There's only so much Lithium easily available but it's not like someone can decide to be environmentally responsible and recycle the batteries in their garage. – Jean-Paul Calderone Nov 17 '17 at 11:39
  • @Jean-PaulCalderone There is an Instructables guide for doing this with smaller batteries. Google DIY Tesla wall. Integrating backup power with household power isn't simple. Some parts need to be done by professionals so that in a power outage, YOU aren't going to electocute someone working on the grid. Completely off grid is simpler. – Sherwood Botsford Nov 17 '17 at 19:51
  • @THelper Sorry I don't. I'm basing it on that aluminum and lithium are both usually refined electrolytically. You would need to dig into recycling technology to veryify this. – Sherwood Botsford Nov 17 '17 at 19:54
  • @SherwoodBotsford Sorry, the "it" I meant was recycling not repurposing. – Jean-Paul Calderone Nov 20 '17 at 1:30

Reuse beats recycling. The active duty life span of an EV battery (cells and control electronics both) is hugely longer outside of an EV, so reclaiming lithium from them should be a last resort only at the point where no more economical uses for them exist.

Thinking of the huge electric vehicle batteries as resources to recycle, once they no longer serve their first-life purpose of pushing cars around streets, is wasteful, when they have a second life as grid or home scale power backups like Tesla's PowerWall.

End of functionality as a car battery is reached very long before end of functionality in scenarios where properties like weight to capacity ratios don't matter.

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    This is only applicable if a battery can be reused. Eventually every battery will be rendered unchargeable & unusable because it has reached the end of it functionality. When that happens it needs to be either disposed of or preferably recycled. – Fred Dec 6 '19 at 4:21
  • All other answers already cover that last-resort atypical case for what to do with an EV battery that no longer works for the EV use case. This answer rather points out that Grand Central Station doesn't need to be torn down and rebuilt when it stops to serve train traffic, when it can have a great high-yield after-life as an Apple Store. – ecmanaut Dec 6 '19 at 5:05
  • Among hobbyists reuse is already a thing. One example: power banks – Jan Doggen Dec 20 '19 at 14:04
  • ... and even for entire home storage systems. Look at this video specifically. – Jan Doggen Dec 20 '19 at 14:15

In the recycling of lithium-ion batteries, cobalt is first in importance while lithium is second:

"Rechargeable battery waste, particularly from lithium-ion batteries, will become an increasingly menacing environmental challenge in the future as the demand for these through their usage in electric vehicles and other gadgets increases dramatically," Ajayan said.

"It's important to recover strategic metals like cobalt that are limited in supply and are critical for the performance of these energy-storage devices"...

New 'blue-green' solution for recycling world's batteries | Science Daily (sciencedaily.com, April 1st, 2019) : https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/04/190401115823.htm

Cobalt and lithium are central to the development and deployments of [sustainable] technologies—largely due to their use in lithium-ion batteries—and as such, the demand for both minerals has and is predicted to increase substantially. The supplies of both minerals, however, is not projected to meet the demand, with shortfalls expected in the coming decade. Concerns along the supply chains of both minerals—including the potential use of child labour in cobalt extraction and the intensive use of water and energy in lithium production—place additional strain on the responsible sourcing of both.

Sustainability and Second Life: The case for cobalt and lithium recycling | International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD.org, March 2019) : https://www.iisd.org/sites/default/files/publications/sustainability-second-life-cobalt-lithium-recycling.pdf

Japan's Sumitomo Metal Mining has developed a method to recycle cobalt from spent electric car batteries, allowing conservation of a relatively scarce metal, Nikkei has learned...

...Mined in only a few regions of the world, including parts of Africa, the supply of cobalt is expected to fall short of demand in the next few years as electric vehicles become more widespread.

Milestone reached in the recycle of cobalt from spent EV batteries | Nikkei Asian Review (asia.nikkei.com, March 28, 2019) : https://asia.nikkei.com/Business/Markets/Commodities/Milestone-reached-in-the-recycle-of-cobalt-from-spent-EV-batteries

But presumably, nickel is third in importance:

The presence of LiCoO2 and LiCoxNi(1 − x)O2 in the cathodic material of Li-ion and Li-polymer batteries has stimulated the recovery of Co and Ni by hydrometallurgical processes. In particular, the two metals were separated by SX method and then recovered by electrochemical (galvanostatic and potentiostatic) processes.

Nickel and cobalt recycling from lithium-ion batteries by electrochemical processes | Science Direct (sciencedirect.com, 2005) : https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0956053X05000164

As a side note, consider that BYD battery-powered electric-vehicles use lithium-iron-phosphate batteries. The lithium-iron-phosphate batteries have less fire risk than lithium-ion batteries.

  • Here is another link that suggests the importance and difficulty of the use of cobalt: cnbc.com/2019/12/18/… – S Spring Dec 19 '19 at 4:27
  • Well, the DRC is increasing royalties on metals including cobalt. They might consider instead a plan similar to Indonesia where mineral export is not allowed such that product manufacturing is required in the country. The finished products can be exported. – S Spring Dec 19 '19 at 20:45

Where I live, there is a mine that was planned to be used for uranium extraction. The uranium concentration is 20 ppm, or in other words 0.002%. Source.

An EV battery contains 11.6 kWh per kg of lithium. So, 11.6 kWh = 1 kg of lithium. 11.6 kWh battery however weighs ~50 kg. So, about 2% of the battery is lithium.

Now, if uranium can be mined at 0.002% concentration, and a battery contains 2% of lithium, I am 100% certain that a used battery can be treated as an extraordinarily high-grade ore.

Summary: the battery is a very high-grade ore and thus the precious metals in disposed batteries WILL be reused.

  • But what if removing lithium from dirt is significantly cheaper than removing it from a battery? In this case, the concentration may not matter. – LShaver Dec 5 '19 at 20:41
  • @LShaver Given the transportation electrification plans and plans to shift to renewable wind electricity that can suddenly stop (thus requiring lithium ion backup batteries and possibly longer-term hydrogen energy storage), there will be need for every last lithium atom economically extractable. Agree that if we have an endless source of lithium dirt, then the old batteries could end up to be a problem. But alas, we have finite lithium reserves. – juhist Dec 5 '19 at 20:57
  • I agree -- at some point there will be so many Li-ion batteries piling up that somebody will figure out a good way to recycle them. But do we have one now? That is the core of the question. – LShaver Dec 5 '19 at 21:01
  • Well, there could be a problem in the very short term as lithium reserves won't be depleted in the next 10 years or so... I'm primarily interested in 100-year timescale. We all should be. In 10 years, even climate change is not a problem! – juhist Dec 5 '19 at 21:03

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