Electric Vehicles Will Produce Tons of Trash Batteries: What To Do With Them?

Electric vehicles make a lot of sense in the moment you drive them.  Just plug in, wait four or five hours, then drive for a couple hundred miles for pennies.

But that ignores the cost of building the components of the car, especially the lithium-ion batteries, which are composed of minerals which are often mined in harsh, polluting circumstances.

And then there’s the other end of the cycle, when batteries from EV’s reach the end of their useful life.  We’re on the cusp seeing EV batteries from Prii (the plural of Prius, according to Toyota) sold at the start of the decade hit the trash heap, and within a couple of years we’ll start to see batteries from Teslas sold in 2012 forward come in for replacement.

Today, there aren’t good options for recycling.

According to a new paper published in Nature, more than a million EVs were sold in 2017, which means by 2030 we’ll see a lot of batteries pile up. The paper points to several current methods of recycling, but each have significant drawbacks, including emitting pollutants and exposing workers to the risk of explosion.

We might be able to repurpose the batteries for another use, or even refurbish them.  Both initiatives need more research.

At the moment, we’re stuck with heating them up to slag off the useful minerals left, and then find a place to dump toxic waste.

That’s a tough ending for something that’s supposed to move us closer to a clean climate.

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Comments (8)

  1. Tom H

    even after the useful mileage is gone form a battery, they will be great battery supply for an off grid home or just a home that would need a large UPS.If these batteries can be mildly reconditioned, and reconfigured, to create a low cost battery backup, it could make going off grid, or grid reduced, a feasible option for millions of families.
    Something packaged similar to Tesla’s power wall, would be ideal.Something self contained, and perhaps exterior mountable, to reduce install cost, enabling installation in proximity to the meter box, or power entry point.

  2. Joseph Vincent

    Keep the Middle East Countries wealthy and wall street . Chances of war in the middle east, which always gives excuses for high gas prices. Cut out all oil coming from the middle east.

  3. Henry S. Arnold

    Coal or gas fired generating plants have a cost in terms of lost energy when converting fuel to electricity. Another secondary loss occurs when charging a battery. So there is an extra loss of energy to use electric cars before hitting the road. Front end costs in terms of energy needed to extract and build batteries (using carbon fuels) is another unseen cost. Guess, if all the unseen costs were honestly reported, EVs may likely be the wrong way to go.

  4. Russell

    I ran a battery shop in the Air Force and handled SLAB Sealed Lead Acid aircraft batteries, NICAD, and standard auto type batteries. I promise you when it’s time to replace electric people will think twice about electric cars! The replacement batteries will cost a bundle and on top of that, they will be hit hard on disposal fees for HAZMAT. You can’t throw old batteries away and you can’t simply take them to a salvage yard. You will have to find a recycler that can handle those types of batteries. You will be hit with an environmental impact fee upon purchasing a car or replacement batteries and the end result will hurt your wallet.

  5. ConservativeNotRepublican

    The problem with being an early adopter of electric automobile technology, is that you couldn’t be sure what surprises waited for you a few years down the road. Unless you sell your electric car when it still has a fair amount of useful life in the battery, it is going to be tough to sell when the battery life is almost gone. It’s like buying a used gas car, knowing that you’re going to have to put a new engine in it before too long. Assuming the economics are relatively the same, those electric cars needing new batteries won’t be worth much…the same as a gas car which needs a new engine. If it ends up that you have to pay a disposal fee to get rid of the car, that’s going to be double whammy. At least with a gas car, you can sell it to a scrap yard for whatever residual value it might have for parts and such. With an electric car, you may well end up having to pay the scrap yard to take it off of your hands.

    This all remains somewhat speculative at the moment, but never put it past the government to try and find a way into your pocket through regulations. Just remember, Trump won’t always be president.

  6. Tom Edwards

    Friend owns towing service and wrecking yard. Usually he won’t tow a electric car if can help.Most cars you are turning electric motors. Chances of explosion. So have to flat bed them. If totaled he will not tow to wrecking yard even if gave to him. You cant get rid of them.You take batteries out Nobody wants them. Can’t scrap car without taking electric motors and computes and most of wiring. The wireing is useless because so lite weight no copper. rest is not worth hauling because no weight left. If you take to body shop he will haul. If you do not have anyplace to haul it he won’t. Then our more popular and more coming Brown Outs! They are not building new grids! Where is your electricity coming from? Generators. Most gas or diesel! Say within 10 t0 20 years loose good share of our Electricity! Keep on buying them especially self driving cars so they can kill you!

  7. daniel visan

    Electric cars are a clean solution until we get to the battery. We need to have a FULL CYCLE product initiative that can be developed and added once products like electric cars are adopted in the market place. The goal should be that all raw materials and parts used in the manufacturing of electric cars should be fully recyclable. There should not be any exception given the need to be good managers of our environment. We have a responsibility to our selves and all the generations after us to create a sound FULL CYCLE recycle platform.

  8. Ann Marie FitzGerald

    This information should be widely published. People should know the future problems that will occur when the batteries from the electric cars need to be disposed of. Most of us never would have realized what environmental problems will have to be dealt with for disposal. Bet no dealer would give any of this background regarding problems to any prospective buyer! All the hype re these cars is that they drive clean and are less polluting to the environment. Also no awareness of the need for charging stations at home base and on the road. And the need for approx. 6 hours for a charge.And MOST can not IMAGINE ie that here in NYC a charging station would take up more than TWO parking spaces for at least 6 hours, The public should be getting more information as a public service announcement.

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