Battery Recycling Debunks The Myth Of Electric Vehicle Waste


Conventional techniques of extracting and refining materials for battery production consume vast amounts of energy.

Producing a battery for an electric vehicle involves mining hundreds of pounds of hard-to-obtain minerals, highlighting the significant environmental impact of batteries, especially at the initial stages. However, advancements in battery recycling, notably by top U.S. recycler Redwood Materials, are reducing the environmental footprint of electric vehicles (EVs).

The traditional process of mining and refining materials for batteries demands a significant amount of energy. Consequently, the initial carbon footprint of an EV surpasses that of a typical internal combustion engine vehicle. However, this higher initial emission level is offset over time by the superior efficiency of electric motors, which can lead to a 70% reduction in total emissions throughout the vehicle’s lifespan. In the U.S., an EV reaches an environmental breakeven point after approximately 25,500 miles (41,000 kilometres), based on a Bloomberg NEF analysis. This analysis assumes the use of newly mined lithium, nickel, and cobalt, predicting these materials would be discarded at the end of the vehicle’s life—a scenario increasingly unlikely as EV batteries are highly valued and actively reclaimed by the emerging recycling industry.

Although still developing, the EV recycling sector is already profitable and can retrieve over 95% of crucial minerals. Preliminary findings from Stanford University, pending peer review, suggest that Redwood Materials’ recycling process emits up to 80% fewer emissions than conventional supply chains that rely on high-emission refineries. This efficiency could reduce the environmental breakeven time for an average EV to under 15,000 miles when compared to an internal combustion engine vehicle.

The electricity source used in battery manufacturing and vehicle charging is crucial in determining when an EV reaches its breakeven point. Cleaner electricity sources can significantly shorten this period. Even in areas still reliant on coal for power, EVs ultimately have a lower environmental impact.

The Stanford study also noted that recycling batteries consumes 79% less energy and produces 55% fewer CO2 emissions than traditional refining methods. By maintaining a local recycling supply chain, as opposed to the extensive refining process required for newly mined minerals, total CO2 savings can reach up to 80%, effectively closing the loop on emissions.


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