Redwood has shared its experiences from 12 months of recycling end-of-life (EOL) electric vehicle (EV) batteries at its pioneering plant in California.
Over the past 12 months, it has worked with Toyota, Ford, Volvo, Volkswagen and dismantlers to collect and recycle lithium-ion and nickel metal hydride (NiMH) vehicle batteries. As the first wave of EV vehicles begin to retire from California’s roads, Redwood says its management of end-of-life battery packs can be seen as a model for other states and the battery recycling industry as a whole.
Over the year, Redwood has identified and recovered 1 268 end-of-life packs of older NiMH and newer lithium-ion chemistries from more than a dozen different carmakers. Fewer than 5% were unusable.
‘Lithium-ion represented the majority of the chemistry types collected and we expect it will continue to grow as it is now the only type of vehicle battery on the market,’ it reports.
The most significant cost of battery pack collection and recycling is logistics and a key way to reduce costs is economies of scale through an increased collection volume.
‘Redwood is confident that, in time, as EOL pack volumes increase, the logistics cost will decrease so that batteries will become assets that will help make EVs more sustainable and affordable in the long run.’
It says its recycling process is already profitable for smaller batteries, such as those used in consumer devices, and production scrap. As logistics becomes a smaller component of the overall cost, it anticipates a similar trend for the larger EV batteries.
Redwood has been allied with auto dismantlers, particularly the Automotive Recyclers Association and California Auto Dismantlers and Recyclers Alliance.
‘The dismantler community helped us to establish the most efficient transportation routes and aggregate batteries at their central locations and in return, they were appreciative of the knowledge we shared on handling, packaging and transporting EV packs.’
The company notes that an extended producer responsibility approach could be effective but calls for any such policy to allow carmakers either to partner directly with recyclers or recycle the batteries themselves.
‘This is paramount to ensure the market manages EOL batteries in the safest and most efficient manner, while avoiding unnecessary costs to the battery value chain. It also presents an opportunity for the industry to drive down the costs of future domestic battery production and pass those savings to consumers.’
But it does not believe that a single producer responsibility organisation, similar to that often seen in the e-waste sphere, is an appropriate solution for battery packs.
‘It is essential that recyclers have the capability to produce “battery-grade” refined metals. Without this capability, we will end up with a chain of recyclers producing only intermediates, adding to costs, and increasing the likelihood that critical materials could end up overseas instead of being reused in batteries to support the United States’ electrification goals.’
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