With the electric vehicle and battery storage markets both set to grow over the coming years, researchers in Germany examined the commercial viability of recycling lithium-ion batteries. They found considerable potential for re-use in power grids and home storage for solar energy.
The environmental pros and cons of electric vehicles are well known. Most would agree that getting people out of their cars and onto public transport or bicycles is the best option for our planet.
But it’s hard to change habits, which is why electric vehicles are touted as the next best alternative provided the electricity used to power them comes from renewable sources of energy.
Even with all their green bells and whistles, one of the biggest contributors to the environmental footprint of electric vehicles is what happens to the lithium-ion batteries at the end of their useful life.
Researchers from the Association for Electrical, Electronic & Information Technologies (VDE) set out to examine this question and looked specifically at both the commercial viability and environmental footprint of recycling or re-using lithium-ion batteries, what they call ‘second life concepts’.
Given that lithium-ion batteries continue to have a storage capacity of up to 80 per cent even after they are no longer suitable to be used to power a car, the German researchers concluded that there is great potential to re-use the disused batteries for energy storage. Their findings are based on the premise that the market for both electric vehicles and battery storage will continue to grow.
Two specific applications were found to have the most promise: as primary control power for grid operators and for homeowners to store energy from photovoltaic panels.
According to the study, second-life batteries have the significant environmental advantage that their use makes it unnecessary to produce new batteries for the rapidly growing energy storage market. In terms of cost, second-life batteries have a maximum sale value of around 50 per cent of the cost of a new battery.
The success of second-life products lies in the ability of the automotive industry to standardise battery concepts, optimise recycling processes and improving its knowledge about second-life applications, concluded the study.