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.


6 Answers 6


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, 2017 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. Nov 17, 2017 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. Nov 17, 2017 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. Nov 17, 2017 at 19:54
  • @SherwoodBotsford Sorry, the "it" I meant was recycling not repurposing. Nov 20, 2017 at 1:30

It appears that currently (late December 2020), lithium from batteries is not recycled, because it is only worth 6 euro per kg (9 USD per kg). The only metals recovered from Li batteries are the valuable ones such as cobalt, which has a current LME price of 32 USD per kg.

Edit 18 August 2022

A recent news item quotes Elon Musk stating that "The lithium is actually 2 per cent of the cell mass". Every Tesla battery contains about 50 kg of nickel.

The other quote attributed to Elon Musk is, "batteries need a sprinkle of lithium compared to nickel. It's like salt on your salad. It's a very small amount of the cell mass and a fairly small amount of the cost, but it sounds like it's big because it's called [a] lithium-ion [battery] , but our batteries should be called nickel-graphite, because it's mostly nickel-graphite."

  • Do you have data on the actual recycling rate?
    – LShaver
    Jan 29, 2021 at 0:41

Battery recycling today is handled by 3rd parties. This leads to issues of economic value on materials extracted since they must cover a large variety of battery types and cannot specialize on any one. Plus, the materials extracted from these recycled batteries that do not represent a 1-to-1 demand for replacement. So we have room for innovation here still.

I don't have information specific to VW, but I do know where to look for Tesla's efforts on this as they continue to lead the charge for sustainable energy. See page 14-15 of Tesla's 2019 Impact Report, which puts it well:

All materials contained in a battery remain in their original form at end-of-life and the vast majority of these materials are then captured in the recycling process. Presently, only high-value elements are recycled and re-introduced into the supply chain. However, as recycling technology improves, we strive to re-introduce more and more materials back into their original commodity markets. Over half of the materials in a battery cell are metals, which is great for sustainability given they are infinitely recyclable. The remaining materials are plastics, organics, and other difficult to re-use materials. Research is underway by organizations all over the world to improve the ability to recycle these remaining materials.

Today, we work with third-party recyclers around the world to process all scrap and end-of-life batteries to recover valuable metals. Our recycling partners work with us to ensure that non-valuable or non-recoverable materials from the batteries are disposed of responsibly.

Tesla is currently developing a unique battery recycling system at Gigafactory Nevada that will process both battery manufacturing scrap and end-of-life batteries. Through this system, the recovery of critical minerals will be maximized along with the recovery of all metals used in Tesla battery cells, such as copper, aluminum and steel. Our ultimate goal is to develop a recycling processes that has high recovery rates, low costs, and a low environmental impact. From an economic perspective, we expect to recognize significant savings over the long term, as the costs associated with large-scale battery material recovery and recycling will be far lower than purchasing and transporting new materials to put into cells.

(Emphasis added.)

Notably: Tesla co-founder JB Strabuel stepped down (but not away) from Tesla in 2019 to start a company dedicated to closed-loop battery recycling called Redwood Materials.

Tesla's Battery Day event on September 22, 2020 expanded on all of this and explains that at some point Tesla expects to get to a steady state where they won't need to do any more mining at all across all of their products. Basically: New batteries will come exclusively from old batteries. Hear it for yourself here: https://youtu.be/l6T9xIeZTds?t=4679 (Timestamp: 1:18:00 - 1:19:32).

See also: https://insideevs.com/features/458173/tesla-jb-straubel-battery-recycling/

  • Any data on actual recycling rates?
    – LShaver
    Jan 29, 2021 at 0:39
  • Lots looking to the future with a lack of actual reclaim now. It sounds a lot like the nuclear power industry of years past to me and we know where that waste is stored.
    – Ed Beal
    Aug 14, 2021 at 22:26
  • @EdBeal Note that Tesla, at least, is already reclaiming/reusing/recycling per their 2020 impact report. News article version here: teslarati.com/tesla-100-percent-battery-recycling-model
    – pdobb
    Aug 20, 2021 at 21:22
  • @pdobb my comment was on what is actually being done read the entire articles that are linked. No place is reclaiming 100% yet but they are looking ahead as stated in the articles. It would be great if we could have zero impact but our power grid alone is 75 years out for those kind of loads and I state this as a professional electrician.
    – Ed Beal
    Aug 22, 2021 at 2:06
  • @EdBeal My hat's off to your profession -- I've considered jumping in myself. The linked articles are mine and out of date as of now. Tesla is reporting that they are in fact reclaiming 100% today. Agree that the grid needs a lot of work, but we have time to get there and solar and battery microgrids will help distribute the pain, too.
    – pdobb
    Aug 23, 2021 at 3:14

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.

  • 2
    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, 2019 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, 2019 at 5:05
  • Among hobbyists reuse is already a thing. One example: power banks
    – user2451
    Dec 20, 2019 at 14:04
  • ... and even for entire home storage systems. Look at this video specifically.
    – user2451
    Dec 20, 2019 at 14:15
  • Any data on actual rates of reuse? I don't think the powerwall is a re-used EV battery -- it's a brand new one.
    – LShaver
    Jan 29, 2021 at 0:40

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, 2019 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, 2019 at 20:45
  • Sounds like some of these methods were only developed in the last year or two. Is there data on actual recycling rates?
    – LShaver
    Jan 29, 2021 at 0:41

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, 2019 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, 2019 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, 2019 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, 2019 at 21:03
  • Uranium isn't the main metal being mined at Talivivaara, it's only a very minor by-product. The main metal is nickel followed by by-products zinc, copper & cobalt. It just so happens that uranium is leaching out from the heap leach pads. One way to mitigate a radioactive metal, dissolved in liquid, from becoming an environment issue is to remove it. It's an opportunistic recovery. If the mine had to rely solely on uranium it would be uneconomic because of the quantities produced, only 350 t/yr compared to 33 000 t/yr for nickel & 66 000 t/yr of zinc & 10 000 t of copper.
    – Fred
    Jan 1, 2021 at 8:59

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