The rise of electric cars could leave us with a big battery waste problem

Second life for batteries

Francisco Carranza, energy services MD at Nissan, says the fundamental problem is that while the cost of fully recycling a battery is falling toward €1 per kilo, the value of the raw materials that can be reclaimed is only a third of that.

Nissan has partnered with power management firm Eaton for its car batteries to be re-used for home energy storage, rather than be recycled, and this economic problem is a big reason why. “Cost of recycling is the barrier,” says Carranza. “It has to be lower than the value of the recovered materials for this to work.”

The lack of recycling capacity is “a tragedy”, says Amrit Chandan, a chemical engineer leading business development at Aceleron, a hi-tech British startup looking to transform end of life batteries. “It takes so much energy to extract these materials from the ground. If we don’t re-use them we could be making our environmental problems worse,” he says.

Aceleron, like Nissan, thinks the answer lies in re-using rather than recycling car batteries – for which the company has patented a process. Chandan says car batteries can still have up to 70% of their capacity when they stop being good enough to power electric vehicles, making them perfect – when broken down, tested and re-packaged – for functions such as home energy storage.

Fresh from recognition by Forbes as one of the 30 most exciting hi-tech startups in Europe, Aceleron is looking for investors to help it roll out pilot projects. “There’s going to be a storm of electric vehicle batteries that will reach the end of their life in a few years, and we’re positioning ourselves to be ready for it,” says Chandan.

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