How Will We Deal With a Mountain of Old EV Batteries?
Speaker 1: A lot of people are really excited about electric cars these days. Cuz they get to flip off the gas station as they drive by and show their neighbors. They don't even have a tailpipe let alone tailpipe emissions, but to be really smug about the future of electric cars, we have to address the future and the full life of their batteries. Here's why
Speaker 1: Now whether you like [00:00:30] them or not. Electric cars are about to hit a tipping point. Thanks to a combination of government mandates, car maker, pledges doom, scrolling about environmental conditions and soaring gas prices. Paul Anderson, professor of strategic elements and materials sustainability at the university of Birmingham told the BBC the rate at which we're growing the EV industry is absolutely scary in terms of how we're going to have a mountain [00:01:00] of old end of life, EV batteries, maybe 10 to 15 years away. And how we deal with that battery bomb is going to really affect the entire equation of EVs as a good guy. Now we live under this assumption kind of an old one that cars are these smog belching machines that are almost entirely responsible for destroying the environment. In fact, cars, [00:01:30] trains buses, planes, jet liners combined are responsible for a little over a quarter of all the greenhouse gas emissions in the us. According to the EPA, Which also points out that over 98% of most tailpipe emissions have been cleaned up since the 1960s. That is a massive improvement that sets the bar higher for the whole life cycle of the electric car, including its giant battery.
Speaker 1: And that's gonna turn on reuse, [00:02:00] repurposing recycling and reduction an electric car battery weighs 700 to a thousand pounds, very roughly give or take and like just about everything else. You have electric. It is a lithium ion battery. Now that name may say, oh, it's a big old box of lithium far from it. There's only about three to 7% by weight of lithium inside lithium ion battery. The rest is composed of kind of a toxic and globally contentious stew of graphite, manganese nickel [00:02:30] cobalt. And as you've probably noticed the prices for these metals and other materials is volatile to say the least and usually volatile this way over time, trying to manage for that means getting more life out of every battery made
Speaker 1: The first second act for any EV battery could be reuse. This is when you take a battery out of an electric car and put it to work in another electric car. It could be [00:03:00] a car that was damaged in a collision, but the battery's fine and still has almost all of its capacity. Great. Let's reuse it like many other collision parts. Keep them in the stream of being functional as opposed to making a new one with all of its cost and environmental problems. This reuse idea is a big part of California's in development, EV battery management roadmap, and the reuse idea can also be seen in visions like VIN fast or Neo electric car companies that want to sell you a car, but probably [00:03:30] rent you a battery that creates a fleet of batteries that are constantly being reused. And as they age out, they vanish from the stream of batteries, but it's not really your problem. It's handled by the system.
Speaker 1: Another example of reuse is what you might see at companies like EV west, where you can buy off the shelf, recovered Tesla batteries, power control modules, even motors, and use them to do an electric car conversion or some other kind of rebuild project that you're working [00:04:00] on. Or look at battery swapping platform, ample, which we took you on a visit to recently their entire business is built on reusing and swapping batteries on a common platform between all kinds of makes and models of cars. So reuse has all kinds of permutations, but it's kind of your first stop. When you say, what do we do with all these batteries? All of this will work better as we have more and more EVs and we create a more liquid market for all of this to happen.
Speaker 1: [00:04:30] Then there's repurposing. This is when you take a battery out of an EV that has lost a significant amount of its capacity, but it's still good for something else. So you repurpose it maybe in fixed industrial applications or powering vehicles like electric forklifts, that don't really inspire range anxiety, or you could use it for maybe, uh, storage at a solar facility because you've got more room to use more of them to make up for the fact that they each hold a little less than [00:05:00] they used to. So those are good. Examples of repurposing Nissan, for example, has a company called four are energy and they grade batteries that are coming out of cars. Three ways. Grade a is reuse. We talked about grade B is repurposing. And grade C is when they say they've got a battery that can be repurposed, but only for needs that are not so frequent. And don't draw a huge amount of current. Let's say running the, uh, backup L E D emergency lights in a building, they may not be called upon very often. And when they [00:05:30] are, they don't draw a ton of power, but a deeply degraded former EV battery might be fine for that.
Speaker 1: And VW is among several companies imagining taking older EV batteries and installing them at charge locations, not to swap into the car, but to be a cash, a buffer, if you will grabbing power from some solar panels all the time and grabbing power off the grid at off peak times when it's cheap, then dispensing that power back [00:06:00] into cars when they arrive for a charge, maybe when the sun isn't up or when the rates are high.
Speaker 1: As the old song says, breaking up is hard to do, never more true than with EV batteries. Sure. You look at a picture of one, it looks kind of monolithic, right? Like it's a big old box full of manganese, cobalt, nickel and lithium, but it's way more complicated inside. There are battery modules, the battery modules are full of hundreds or thousands of [00:06:30] cells and there's a whole cooling system built in there. And the whole thing's wrapped up in a big aluminum box. So taking these apart and harvesting their elements again to make new batteries can be tough. However, it's not stopping some very smart people. Look at former CTO of Tesla, JB Strubble who recently founded a company called Redwood materials. That is all about pulling the elements back out and making new batteries. As this company likes to say the largest lithium [00:07:00] and cobalt mines in the Western hemisphere can be found in our country's junk drawers, not to mention underneath our older electric cars and for an auto industry, nervous about a globally contentious and often very narrow supply of where these elements and minerals are found. That's pretty good news.
Speaker 1: Finally, there's reduction. This is not a technological story, but a psychological one. It's the idea that you get EV drivers [00:07:30] or EV intends to think lower about the range they need. Meaning that over time we might need to build a significantly smaller total global capacity of EV batteries. Really big picture. Now, most people are swayed by the ads and the common discussion and the range anxiety to say, oh wow, I'm gonna wait till they've got 400, 500, maybe 600 miles in a car that is also affordable. You'll be waiting a while. So if I can get more people to think about their real driving [00:08:00] needs and say, you know what? A 200 mile range might be just fine and it's highly available now and it's highly affordable. Now, then you get more cars on the road with smaller total battery tonnage over time. And that makes the first three RS often easier to deal with and implement, take a look at my piece that examine this and see what you really need. So remember the four RS reuse, repurpose, recycle, and maybe [00:08:30] ideally reduce. And we end up with a whole different understanding of how the battery and its entire life story is what informs the role of the electric car in society and the environment.