NOT for storing used batteries
In 2017, over 1 million electric vehicles were sold. According to the authors of the said article, used batteries coming only from these cars will change into 250,000 tons of waste. When they end up in landfills, they will be at risk of a process called Thermal runaway. In short, it is a chain reaction that causes a continuous increase in the temperature inside the battery until it is completely destroyed, even by fire. Among other things, this is why we should avoid disposing of old car batteries in landfills, but this is not the only reason.
It just so happens that for batteries from electric cars, after removing them from these cars, replacement applications could be found. This is because then they are not completely useless. Just like batteries placed in smartphones, car batteries with time they lose their capacity. Therefore, just as smartphone users reach for new smartphones or change batteries, so owners of electric cars buy new cars or new batteries. However, batteries removed from electric cars usually have up to 80% of their original capacity. Such batteries should therefore be used somehow before anyone thinks about throwing them away or recycling them. An interesting idea came even Toyota, which decided to pair old batteries from electric vehicles with solar panels to power 7-eleven stores in Japan.
Recycling is needed, but … there is a catch
Unfortunately, over time, even those batteries that have found a second life will need to be recycled so that their residues do not pollute the environment. However, the battery recycling process is more complicated than you might think.
To be able to recycle batteries on a scale that meets the needs of the automotive industry, some challenges need to be addressed. First of all, today's batteries are not built with the uncomplicated process of recovering the materials used in their creation. There are no standards for the construction of such batteries, which makes the automation of their disassembly very difficult. Since this process cannot be completely automated at the moment, people need to do it manually. They are therefore exposed to potential explosions, which may occur when the battery is unfolded, as well as to toxic substances.
In addition, currently used methods of recycling lithium-ion batteries are not very effective and economically profitable. According to researchers, we need alternatives in this regard.
Robots to the rescue
If the disassembly of batteries could be done by robots, not only that this process would have become more efficient (and therefore more economically profitable), the problem of insecurity would disappear standing in front of people who are currently dismantling the batteries in question. However, before robots take over people's responsibility, battery manufacturers need to start designing them for recycling. Ideally, standardized batteries should appear sooner rather than later. From year to year, more electric vehicles will appear on the market, and hence – the number of used batteries will increase, which, if not recycled, will end up in landfills.
Extensive battery recycling can also be beneficial because of the fact that the amount of natural resources needed for their production is not unlimited. Also, some controversy is often associated with the extraction of these raw materials. An example is the extraction of cobalt needed for the production of batteries, which takes place primarily in Congo. There are accusations that children are involved in them.
Researchers from around the world are already working on solutions to these problems. That said, it may take years before we see the effects of this work.