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Project VALUABLE, led by HSSMI, has been instrumental in shedding light on second life opportunities for li-ion batteries. As the project closed at the end of March, we are now sharing our findings in order to generate discussion amongst the public and, in particular, those who are looking to continue the research that VALUABLE began. In this blog series, we will be discussing a different battery-related topic each time – from testing and legislation to end of life, recycling and remanufacturing. This time, we take a look at dismantling and recycling.
At the moment, the UK is taking its first steps in automotive traction battery recycling – the infrastructure is in its infancy and further investment and cooperation along the entire supply chain is necessary to encourage the value recovery of these batteries at their end of life (EoL) in the UK.
Recycling businesses are keen to take up automotive traction battery recycling, but there are several technical and economic challenges that deter investment. From an economic point of view, overseas recycling markets, especially mainland Europe and China, offer a more viable option for battery disposal. However, strict limits on waste imports, as some countries are adopting, could encourage the industry to reconsider their current practices. Obtaining data about battery materials, components, and their life, is another obstacle facing recyclers. This lack of information makes it difficult for recyclers to decide on the most effective recycling route for value recovery.
Achieving a second life for batteries is complicated. Battery remanufacturers and recyclers need to know the state of the battery in order to assess potential recovery options, and they need to be able to recover more than one battery at a time. However, fragmentation across Battery Management System architectures creates a challenge for reverse supply chain stakeholders to gather information and compare the characteristics of batteries, as each system is currently operated by a different software and is often used for a specific cell chemistry. Further work on standardisation and the implementation of a battery passport solution could help alleviate this issue.
Recycling efforts are also hampered by a skills gap, limited know-how and availability of disassembly instructions, which makes it difficult for recyclers to train their workforces. Accreditation bodies have been slow to develop certifications for dismantlers that would equip them for work on end-of-life treatment of automotive traction batteries. While independent training companies have courses available for dismantlers, there is no official UK-wide accreditation.
As a first step in rectifying this, there needs to be an agreed checklist for testing, both from an OEM warranty and safety perspective. Some lessons could be gleaned from the International Dismantling Information System (IDIS), which is a database compiling detailed dismantling instructions on over 170,000 vehicle parts covering 1,000 models from more than 60 brands used worldwide.
According to established recyclers, it is the right time to explore and understand value pathways for batteries. As the volume of electric vehicles nearing their end of life is still modest, recyclers can stockpile them and work together with engineering firms to investigate how best to recover value. However, the amount of electric vehicles will rapidly increase in the coming years, so action needs to be taken now.
The information contained in this article has been generated through discussions in the project VALUABLE Industrial Advisory Board.