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Growth of electric vehicles in UK drives need for battery recycling

A scrap car recycling company with more than 300 sites in the UK is backing a domestic facility for electric vehicle (EV) battery recycling and calling for a crackdown on unauthorised operators.

CarTakeBack says now is the time to act with EV sales soaring but not yet enough vehicles old enough to be scrapped. The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders has reported that UK sales of reached a record high in August 2018 and accounted for one in 12 of all new cars bought. 

Industry collaboration

CarTakeBack, which claims to be the country’s largest scrap car recycling business, is heavily involved in industry planning for recycling EVs in far greater numbers. Projects include research into techniques for battery dismantling and plans to support a UK based EV battery recycling plant. Company representatives also sit on various collaborative university and industry research project boards.

‘Over the past 18 months, EVs have comprised less than 1% of our customer enquiries,’ says Ken Byng, senior manager at CarTakeBack. ‘However, we are expecting this to grow exponentially from 2019 onwards as the increasing number of EVs purchased over the years grow older and reach the end of their lives.’

Brexit uncertainty

Most electric cars currently use high voltage lithium-ion batteries for power alongside standard 12-volt lead acid batteries used primarily to maintain safety systems. Unlike lead acid batteries, they are expensive to safely recycle and are currently exported to mainland Europe. Uncertainty around Brexit extends to EV battery recycling.

‘Much depends on the nature of the eventual deal,’ says Byng. ‘But we believe that when it comes to transporting lithium-ion batteries for recycling to mainland Europe there is a risk that added layers of bureaucracy will be introduced into what is already quite rightly a tightly controlled process.

‘Should this happen, we would expect to see increases in cost for what is even now an expensive operation as well as significant delays for transporting these batteries. We, along with most businesses involved in trading with our EU partners, will be watching developments closely.’

Illegal operators

The company is also concerned that as many as 600 000 of the 1.8 million vehicles of all types scrapped annually end up at unlicensed scrap yards run by illegal operators.

‘Illegal operators will not be able to make money from the lithium-ion batteries and would incur costs to dispose of them, which means that the batteries are likely to end up being fly-tipped, releasing hazardous chemicals into the ground, air and water supply,’ it says. ‘Illegal operators are also unlikely to have propersafety procedures in place, so staff at their sites are more likely to be at risk from injury or electrocution when handling electric vehicles and their batteries.’

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