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Electric cars: What will happen to all the dead batteries?

Electric cars: What will happen to all the dead batteries?

A worker with car batteries at a factory for Xinwangda Electric Vehicle Battery Co. Ltd, which makes lithium batteries for electric carsGETTY IMAGES
The world will have to work out what to do with millions of disused car batteries

“The rate at which we’re growing the industry is absolutely scary,” says Paul Anderson from University of Birmingham.

He’s talking about the market for electric cars in Europe.

By 2030, the EU hopes that there will be 30 million electric cars on European roads.

“It’s something that’s never really been done before at that rate of growth for a completely new product,” says Dr Anderson, who is also the co-director of the Birmingham Centre for Strategic Elements and Critical Materials.

While electric vehicles (EVs) may not emit any carbon dioxide during their working lives, he’s concerned about what happens when they run out of road – in particular what happens to the batteries.

“In 10 to 15 years when there are large numbers coming to the end of their life, it’s going to be very important that we have a recycling industry,” he points out.

While most EV components are much the same as those of conventional cars, the big difference is the battery. While traditional lead-acid batteries are widely recycled, the same can’t be said for the lithium-ion versions used in electric cars.

EV batteries are larger and heavier than those in regular cars and are made up of several hundred individual lithium-ion cells, all of which need dismantling. They contain hazardous materials, and have an inconvenient tendency to explode if disassembled incorrectly.

“Currently, globally, it’s very hard to get detailed figures for what percentage of lithium-ion batteries are recycled, but the value everyone quotes is about 5%,” says Dr Anderson. “In some parts of the world it’s considerably less.”

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